How to Balance Work and School as a College Student

balance work and school

Are you trying to figure out how to balance work and school? You’re not alone. In fact, 43% of college students also have a job, making this a familiar struggle.

Fortunately, you can learn from their mistakes as well as their successes! Let’s talk about balancing work and school for your own mental and physical well-being.

Create a Schedule

When in doubt, write it out.

Seriously, write out your schedule. On your phone, on a calendar, in an agenda, or anywhere, as long as you have easy access to it throughout the week.

Develop the habit of adding new events to your schedule and checking it to look for conflicts when new events arise. One of the most common skills that college students develop during their tenure is time management out of necessity, so work on developing this as soon as possible.

If your work and class schedule are consistent throughout the week, then it will be easy to upload your schedule onto your phone and make adjustments as needed.

If your work or school schedule fluctuates, take time during the weekend or on Monday morning to prepare your schedule every week. This will go a long way toward helping you understand when your next responsibilities are as well as when you have time to breathe.

Stay Motivated

Having a job in college isn’t the easiest balancing act in the world, so it’s important to always have a “why” to help get you through tough times.

There are plenty of motivators to keep in mind, depending on your circumstances and ambitions. For one common example, the average undergraduate student leaves with about $26,000 in debt. That’s a big reason to try to earn money and limit the amount of debt that you owe in the end.

Paying for an apartment will cause extra stress now, but remember how much better you will feel when you leave without your previous room and board expenses haunting you.

Increase Your Income

Is there better motivation to continue working hard than making money? Try asking for a raise or starting a side hustle that pays more.

Small payouts are a major cause of frustration when you’re spending all of your time working, so see if there is a way to earn more. It might help you if you’re trying to pay for college early!

Treat Yourself

It’s okay to treat yourself occasionally. You should make time to go see a movie with your friends, get something to eat, or have fun now and again.

For somebody who is working and going to school, you won’t run the risk of making this an excessive habit without cutting into your sleep. However, it’s important to make time at least once a week for a treat to help keep you motivated.

Starting Your Life

Once you graduate, you’ll be officially starting your independent, adult life. By saving up now, you’ll find it so much easier to gain your footing after graduation and have a huge leg up on the rest of your cohort.

If you’re finding it difficult to save, let’s put this into perspective. If you manage to tuck away $20 a week into an account that you don’t touch, then after a 4-year degree, you will have saved $4,160 in your student account. That’s not even including extra money from your summer jobs or anything else.

Remind yourself about how much easier life will be once you’ve graduated, you have enough money to get into an apartment, and possibly even enough to take out a chunk of your student loans.

The ability to start your life on solid footing, avoid unnecessary debt, and have valuable work experience to help you land a job will help stay motivated when you start to face challenges.

Develop a Rhythm to Balance Work and School

Once you have your schedule and your motivating factors down, it’s time to figure out your own personal rhythm. Start by answering the following questions:

  • How much sleep do you need?
  • When can you hang out with your friends?
  • When is bedtime for you?
  • When will you get homework done?
  • Where can I save time?

These answers will be different for every student. You may find that you work best on 7 hours of sleep or 9 hours of sleep. Either way, you need your rest to be successful at balancing work and school.

Set a time for homework and studying, and stick to it. Do you like to get homework done right after class? Set a library time in your schedule. Do you like to get it done the last thing at night or first thing in the morning? Make it a habit.

There are usually ways to save some time throughout the day. For example, packing everything you need in your backpack for the day will save you trips to your car, dorm, or apartment.

Success in the scheduling game relies entirely on forming the right habits. Figure out the rhythm that works for you, adapt your schedule as necessary, and if something isn’t working, try something else!

Find Time for Yourself

No matter what our motives are and no matter how much we need to do, it’s always important to find time to do the things that you love. Even if your schedule is packed, it’s very important to find leisure time, whether it’s for social activities, playing an instrument, reading, or whatever you enjoy.

The reason it’s so important is to prevent burnout. If you take on an extreme diet and exercise program and give yourself no time to relax and indulge every now and again, how long will you stick to that program?

The same logic applies to balancing work and school. Within your schedule, set a specific time each week (preferably more than once) to do something you truly enjoy.

If you’re worried about spending money, it doesn’t have to cost you anything. There are dozens of free leisurely activities you can enjoy like, meditating, going for a hike, or playing sports with your friends. Whatever it is, make it a priority.

Don’t Neglect Your Mental Health

In all seriousness, mental health is a major concern among busy college students, especially ones who are working. We know this sounds like we’re asking you to juggle even more than you already are, but it’s far better than the alternative.

Working in college is hard enough, but working in college with slipping mental health is even harder. If you even begin to feel concerned over this, talk to your school’s guidance team or consider finding a therapist.

Believe it or not, 41% of college students have anxiety and over 36% have depression. These numbers shouldn’t be taken as “normal”, but rather as a warning. Do everything you can to stay positive and healthy.

Just Say No

Whoever you thought of when you read that header, that’s who you need to learn to say “no” to.

If you are being asked to take on more than you can handle, it’s okay to say no when you can. This could be to friends, your boss, your coworkers, or even your professors.

If your professor is asking too much of you for homework, projects, or assignments, speak with other students and tell the professor that the workload is simply too much. You never know, it could change their mind.

Sometimes, your boss or your coworkers will ask you to take on extra shifts or hours, and if you don’t feel like you can handle the extra workload, it’s okay to decline. If they don’t understand, that’s too bad.

The same thing goes with your friends. If you find that you’re spending too much time or money with certain friends, it’s okay to limit your social time, especially if you feel that your batteries need some charging. Setting boundaries is another important skill to learn in college.

Ask for Help

It’s okay to reach out for help when you need it, and that can take any form that you need! Whether you want to reach out to a professor, a school counselor, or a friend for some guidance, it could make a world of difference.

College struggles aren’t unique to you, and more people understand what you’re going through than you realize. If you come across tough times, it’s okay to ask for a hand.

Take Time Off When You Need It

Midterms, finals, and other important weeks during a semester will require your full attention. If you feel overwhelmed, give your employer as much notice as possible ahead of time and take that week off or reduce your hours.

School is stressful, but maintaining good grades and avoiding burnout is important to secure a prosperous future for yourself. One week off of work can’t compare to that.

Find Your Passion

Hopefully, you are studying something you enjoy in school. If you are wavering in your passion for it, take some fun electives to help supplement your interest.

If you do love the field that you’re studying, try to get a job in that field. However, this does make the need to avoid burnout even more critical to your overall happiness.

Although, if you are studying something in the medical field, try to get a job in a hospital. Studying business? Try to find a job as an administrative assistant. Studying journalism? Try selling blog articles online as a side hustle or even a full-time job. There are also work-study programs worth looking into!

Whatever it is, try to find fulfillment in the work that you’re doing. Remember, if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.

Develop Healthy Habits

If you use them, it’s time to ditch the cigarettes or the vape. It’s a hassle to use on college campuses anyway, and it’s only going to help cause you fatigue, more stress, and health concerns.

Try to develop a healthy exercise routine and work it into your schedule. HIIT training is very popular for its short but effective workouts that are perfect for anybody with time constraints and limited equipment.

Exercise is very important to increasing your energy levels and maintaining proper sleeping habits, which is very important for those who are balancing work and school.

Most importantly, you are what you eat. The “freshman fifteen” is a well-established phenomenon, but what they leave out is the impact on your overall health.

Dining halls at colleges often come with a wide range of healthy to very unhealthy foods. We could go into the various micronutrients that are most important to you, but we can make it a lot easier. Focus on color.

Seriously, a wide variety of colors is the best indicator of your nutritional intake. No, we’re not talking about eating the whole pack of skittles.

However, when it comes to whole foods (especially plants), different colors indicate different nutrients. Try to eat a well-balanced variety of nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. This will go a long way toward keeping you energized throughout the day, helping you feel full, and even keeping your mental health in good shape.

Don’t Forget to Enjoy It

While there is an end in sight, don’t forget that these are going to be a memorable 4 years of your life. Even if it’s difficult to balance work and school, the decisions you make now will determine how fondly you look back on this period of your life, so make it count!

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