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Jobs & Careers

How to balance a job and study at university

Balancing a job and uni can be tough, but for many, it's a necessity and something that will make you way more employable when you graduate. Here's how to get the formula right!

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Credit: Roman Samborskyi, krakenimages.com, studiovin - Shutterstock

Our National Student Money Survey this year revealed that 66% of students in the UK are working a part-time job to supplement their Student Loans. Meanwhile, 34% said not having enough money to make ends meet was negatively impacting their grades at uni.

But the prospect of working during university can be daunting to some, particularly as many courses and universities advise against it.

This guide will help you work out how you can take on part-time work to pay the bills, whilst still gunning for that top class uni grade – you can do this!

Did you know the government expects parents to pay thousands of pounds each year to help with your living costs? Use this calculator tool to find out how much they expect your 'rents to support you.

How many hours can a student work?

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Some universities don't permit students to work during term time, while others recommend limiting work hours to 10 per week. However, some students find taking up a part-time uni job for 15 – 20 hours a week is easily doable on their timetable.

While UK students can technically work as much as they want, there are some rules around part-time work for international students. Most international students in the UK are allowed to work up to 20 hours per week during term time and full-time during breaks. It all depends on the type of visa you have, though.

How to manage a part-time job at uni

Here are some top tips on how to stay sane when working while at uni:

  1. Figure out whether you really need a part-time job

    We're sure you've probably passed this stage by now if you're reading this article, but regardless it's still worth asking yourself: in the grander scheme of things, do you really need a job?

    For the majority of us, the answer to this will be a resounding "yes!", particularly seeing as Maintenance Loans barely even cover rent these days, never mind the costs of living!

    However, for some more fortunate students, getting a part-time job might be more hassle than it's worth – especially if your course involves a heavy workload.

    The key is to first work out a monthly budget. Have a close look at all your incomings and outgoings, and establish exactly how much you're short by each month, if at all.

    You might find that you need less cash to get by than you first thought. In which case, working out a more simple way to make money online each month might make more sense, as it involves less commitment.

  2. Don't over-commit to shifts

    man sleeping on desk
    How many hours you choose to work each week depends on how much you feel you're ready to take on and how much free time your course permits.

    Most universities recommend not to take on more than 15 hours per week, while some don't allow you to take on any during term time.

    The important thing is to take some time to consider how much time you're able to put in before making any commitments – it's a lot harder to go back once you've given your word, so don't rush this decision.

    Ask yourself: are you willing to work weekends? Do you only want to work midweek, and which days can't you do due to uni commitments? How long do shifts at your workplace tend to be?

    If shifts tend to be short, this can actually have a more negative impact on your studies than you might think. Doing four shifts of four hours a week will take up more of your time than two shifts of eight hours once you factor in travel, getting ready, etc.

    Have a good think about what you're ready and able to do, and discuss this with your boss as soon as you can.

    You should never take on more than you think you can handle, but if you're looking for a bit of inspiration, we interviewed a student who owns and runs an alpaca farm in her spare time and is a time-management master.

  3. Know when exams and deadlines are coming up

    Being seriously organised with your calendar is the key to making sure there are no nasty surprises (a.k.a. deadlines) – especially when you're studying full-time and working part-time.

    Make sure you know all the important dates coming up in your course (and social) calendar, such as assignment deadlines and exam dates so that you can easily see your busy periods and plan accordingly.

    Finding a part-time university job with regular shifts can help in this instance, as it's easier to manage your time when you’re working the same days and times each week.

    However, the downside of this is that, depending on your employer, having more regular set shifts can also mean it's harder to take time off when you need it.

    If you can highlight important deadline periods in advance, you can ask to take time off or swap shifts with other people. These things are much less painful if you give those involved some fair warning.

    Do you struggle to stay organised? Take a peek at our guide to becoming more organised.
  4. Use your time productively

    One of the best things about taking on part-time work during university is that it puts you in a situation where you're pretty much forced into becoming super productive with your time.

    As paradoxical as it sounds, often you'll find that the less time you have, the more you get done.

    The psychology of knowing you only have a couple of hours before your shift starts to make some serious progress writing an essay will force you to really focus and use those couple of hours wisely (rather than scrolling through Instagram for the millionth time that day).

    Becoming a productivity pro isn't the easiest art to master, but you won't believe the impact it will have on your work/uni/life balance once you make a few changes to how you use your time.

  5. Try not to miss lectures and tutorials

    Students in a lecture hall with notes

    Credit: Matej Kastelic – Shutterstock

    Obviously, this is easier said than done if you're in a difficult financial situation and need to work as much as you can to make some extra cash.

    However, making sure you go to your classes will not only make you feel less like you're spending £9,250 a year for no reason, but it'll help you keep your finger on the pulse a bit more with your course.

    You might think you'll do better if you catch up on lecture slides online and study in your own time when you're not at work, but this can really alienate you from your course and classmates. Going to your classes and taking good lecture notes is crucial to your university success.

    Unfortunately, it's also true that the more classes you miss the less likely you are to be on the good side of your tutors, and as a result, they're likely to be more critical when marking your work.

  6. Get a part-time job over the summer or work seasonally

    Getting a summer job is always a great idea. It will keep you out of trouble, save you from sheer boredom over the summer months and will, most importantly, give you the chance to build up some savings for term time.

    This might sound a bit ambitious, but as you'll be able to really pack the hours in over summer and potentially not have any rent to pay if you're back lodging with your parents, you should be able to save up a fair few bob over the long uni summer break.

    The same goes for winter. Getting a part-time job over the Christmas and Easter breaks is a great way to boost your funds. You also might want to use your holidays to get some career experience by taking on an internship – but it's worth knowing that paid positions are unfortunately still rare.

    At this point, it'd be worth asking yourself what your particular situation needs more: cash in your pocket to help you through term or relevant experience that will come in handy after you graduate.

    Everyone's individual situations are different, so take the time to work out what makes the most sense to you.

  7. Find some time to relax

    Spa with candles

    Credit: New Africa – Shutterstock

    While working and studying, it can be easy to forget to take a bit of downtime. However, we can't stress how important it is to take some time out to look after your mental health.

    Working yourself to the bone will have a negative effect on your studies in the long run, so please give yourself the occasional break.

    Spending time out with friends is crucial, and why not even use some of that cash you've been working so hard on to take yourself out for dinner or buy yourself something nice as a virtual pat on the back? We've got a full guide with self-care ideas for some more inspiration. You've earned it!

  8. Talk to your university and employer if you're struggling

    The easiest way to really upset that work/uni balance is by letting things get on top of you if you're struggling.

    Juggling a job when you're studying for a degree is no walk in the park, and your employers and tutors should try to respect that.

    Remember to reach out for support if you're ever finding things difficult – the minute you notice any problems with your timetable or if you're struggling with the workload, tell someone.

  9. Get enough sleep

    Lastly (and this one might seem like a no-brainer), when you're juggling coursework, 9am lectures, a part-time job and a social life, it's easy to let sleep run away with you.

    Getting the recommended eight hours a night of shut-eye is vital. If you don't, you'll soon notice everything start to slip.

    We know that there'll be nights where this will go amiss, but make sure it doesn't happen more than a couple of times a week.

Ready to find a part-time job? Here are some student jobs you probably haven't considered.

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