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Balancing Act: School and Work

When my mother gave me the phone number to her company to apply for a great customer service job, I was excited. After five minutes into my conversation with a representative, I was discouraged. It would've been the perfect job, except for one thing: Even as a part--timer, I couldn't commit to the schedule because of my college classes.

Lately, I've been feeling the tension between being a college student and a member of the workforce. Since I entered college, I've had a series of part--time jobs ranging from 10 to 30 hours per week, while my college units are between 12 and 18 units a semester. And, before you call me crazy, check this out: 76 percent of college students attend classes full time, and 92 percent of them work an average of 25 hours per week just to meet expenses.

College is a state of transition, and when you add venturing out financially, it can be an agonizing limbo. Finding a college job can make college life more stressful. For me, however, this stage was interesting as well as challenging. When I worked for a shoe store inside a mall near campus, I thought it would be a no--brainer, easy--paycheck job. Instead, it was fast--paced and demanding. I didn't just have register duties, I also had to wait on customers, keep the store neat, watch out for shoplifters, keep a friendly smile, and never complain about my feet hurting.

Sometimes I even found myself leaving class a little early to make it to work on time, or vice versa. That's how I learned one of the most important lessons about working and being a student. If you manage your time correctly, you can avoid many of the frustrations common to working students. For instance, if I get four or five hours worth of weekly homework, I set aside specific times to do it.

This allows me to have and use my actual "free time" instead of scrambling at the last minute to learn the gist of Plato's Republic for a class starting in an hour. I've also found that it's all right to say no to your boss. If you're called into work on short notice or are unexpectedly asked to fill in for a coworker but can't spare the time, be honest about it. Employers usually understand that their student workers need study time.

The Financial Factor
It's nice to have extra cash to hang out with friends or for shopping sprees, but there are also practical reasons why being a working student will probably be in your future. For starters, how do you pay for books when financial aid barely covers tuition (or when it doesn't even do that!)?

That was certainly the case for me as a student coming from a single--income home. At the school I attended, full scholarships were rare and available only to upperclassmen. I knew I would have to work, as well as rely on the scholarships I earned. It wasn't always easy, but some of my jobs were pretty interesting.

I was once a writing tutor for two boys, ages five and nine. Their mother specifically requested a left--handed writer in the advertisement, as the boys were both left--handed - and I was a perfect match for them. We would meet on campus twice a week to read, write, and extol the virtues of being southpaws. Afterward, we'd play until it was time for them to leave.

Although jobs like this gave me time to just relax and have fun, I still faced time crunches and deadlines. For instance, there was a communications class I took that only met Thursdays for two and a half hours. Not too bad, right? Well, maybe if you're not doing anything else that day, but on Thursdays I worked from morning until late afternoon, then I had to speed home to continue writing a 45--page thesis paper for my honors program. On top of that, I had to make sure I was prepared for my communications class and then get there on time.

Therefore, it's of the utmost importance to choose the right type of job for your schedule. First, you have to decide between an on--campus or an off--campus job. Then it's important to think about finding a college job that not only earns you dough, but is also a stepping stone toward a future career. But the most vital thing to remember is that you're a student first and foremost, so you'll need to find employment that won't have you pulling all--nighters on a regular basis.

Now Get to Work!
There are departments on campus willing and ready to aid students who take on the challenge of working and going to school. Student employment offices have listings of on--and off--campus jobs. The math whiz or grammarian--in--training can contact the department in charge of tutoring.

Another option? Internships! Different fields of study offer paid or credit--based internships. During my senior year, I had the opportunity to intern as a grant writer for a Hollywood--based film festival. Though the internship was unpaid, I garnered school credit (which ultimately means tuition savings) and had the experience to add to my rsum.

The student employment office and individual academic departments have information on how to get an internship that best suits you.If you're in dire need, don't hesitate to consult with the financial aid and accounting offices. They're there to help, whether it's to find an extra scholarship or to arrange your tuition payment plans.