Working, Living, Studying: Loving Your Life and Paying the Bills!

When people asked me what my extracurriculars were in college, I sort of just stood there and blurted, “…um..I worked?” I did have real extracurriculars too, but none were as permanent or important as the multiple jobs I held all throughout undergrad. Unsurprisingly, I’ll be heading into graduate school with two part-time jobs and the determination that work-school-life balance is a thing that exists!

Many students work throughout college and even more through grad school. Whether you’re trying to earn spending money, pay your tuition, help out your family back home, or bulk your resume up, working during school can be challenging but necessary. I’m here to share a little bit of my experience of working while in school!

My College Work Experience

My first college job was a work-study position as a receptionist/assistant at my school’s tutoring center. I was SO lucky that my “big sister”- it’s a Wellesley thing, basically an older student who is a mentor and friend- worked there and introduced me to the supervisor. Turns out they were looking to hire a new student assistant, and all of a sudden I had a job that I maintained throughout my time in college. At the beginning of the semester, tons of places on campus are looking for people to hire, especially first-years or sophomores that they can train and keep on for a few years. Don’t be afraid to ask libraries, department offices, administrative offices, or on-campus cafes if they need help! No one has ever been mad that I asked, and often they are hiring.

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My Best friend Maggie hard at work on-campus as a student assistant at the Dean’s office!

Another excellent resource for me was a Facebook page open to all the students of my college that listed job opportunities. This is a fantastic option if you want to some extra work but not necessarily a set position. Oftentimes, other students were posting babysitting opportunities, local political campaign openings or office help needed by professors. I was able to find an elderly woman in the town right off campus who wanted some help doing errands, chores, and reading. I emailed her and ended up working with her for 3 years! We’re still great friends and I go visit her all the time. You never know what kind of work you might enjoy or who you might meet if you’re open to non-traditional jobs!

Work-Life Balance: It’s Not Constant, So Be Flexible!

The other tricky thing is the work-school-life balance part of the equation. I have found that on-campus jobs are the super understanding during finals period and for those days when you have two papers and a problem set due and simply cannot do anything but study. If you’re working off campus, time management and communication with your supervisors is key. Try to tell them that finals are coming and you want fewer hours maybe more than the Sunday before your first exam!

I would like to say, school comes first! And, it does to a degree. But sometimes we have less than ideal circumstances. Sometimes work comes first because you have bills to pay. Sometimes life comes first because your health has to come first. Everyone has a different balance to strike.

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My very first “adult job” desk of my own! I ~treated myself~ to pretty desk accessories to celebrate. 

At some points in school – I know this will be true in grad school, too – my school work had to come first, so I reduced hours or called out. When the bills had to come first, I worked harder and had to stay up later to study. When life came knocking and made me stay in bed to rest, I had to put my health and sanity first. The truest thing I’ve learned about work-school-life balance is that it’s not constant. Imagine life is one of those old-fashioned scales that balances two items against each other (except ours has three items- work, life, school…just work with my metaphor here.) Maybe you are the type of person that can perfectly schedule each part of your life to completely equalize time spent sleeping, working, and studying. But for me, some weeks called for the scale to skew towards personal time, others towards school, and still others towards work. What was most important to me was not that every week look exactly the same and equally balanced, but that overall I was flexible enough to skew my scale to accommodate a super homework heavy week, and then the next week take a day off to recoup. Or, to skew my scale to spending time with friends when I knew the semester was ending and I wouldn’t see them for a few months.

Grad school is a little bit more bill-paying, as I’m now considered a “real adult” (ugh), and a little less socializing. That’s to be expected once you move out of dorms, off a meal plan, and away from your parent’s house. I’m still tweaking my own scale in this new phase, and you can bet I’ll check in and tell you how it’s going once classes start up. One thing I do know is that working while in school is so, so possible! There are many other things I could talk about on this subject- research, internships, working while on breaks- but for now, I hope you feel encouraged that whether you are in undergrad or post-grad, working doesn’t have to detract from studies or your social life!

Amber Youhouse

Amber is a Wellesley College alumna and first-year graduate student at Harvard Divinity School. She loves being in the kitchen, making stationery, and thinking of new ways to DIY her apartment. Her two dwarf rabbits, Dionysus and Darcy, are her obsession, as well as expanding her already full bookshelf. She is excited to share her experiences with balancing “real life” and graduate school!

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