Before You Decide to Work in College, Ask Yourself These Questions

Before You Decide to Work in College, Ask Yourself These Questions

Laura Perna, Taylor K. Odle

economy, Americas

Working in college helps pay the bills, but working too many hours can bring some ill effects, research shows.

For many undergraduates, working for pay during the academic year is a necessary part of the college experience. If they don’t work while enrolled, they may not have the money needed to pay tuition and other fees, keep a roof over their head or buy things like books and food. But, working – especially working many hours per week – can be stressful and can harm academic performance and progress.

About two out of every five (43%) undergraduates who are enrolled full-time work while they are also enrolled. Among undergraduates who are enrolled in college part-time, four out of five (81%) work. Among those who work, nearly two-thirds (63%) of full-time students – and 88% of part-time students – worked more than 20 hours per week in 2017.

As scholars who have studied working college students, we raise a series of questions that college students should ask themselves to help minimize the costs, and maximize the potential benefits, of working.

1. How much does college cost?

To understand the role of work in paying college costs, it is essential to have an accurate picture of how much it actually costs to attend.

A key concept to understand is the “net price.” The federal government defines net price as the total cost of attendance minus any grants and scholarships. The net price is an estimate of total out-of-pocket expenses for one year. So, if your tuition, rent, food, books, supplies, transportation and other expenses total US$20,000 for one academic year, and you have $7,000 in scholarships and grants, then your net price is $13,000.

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