Top Five: Ways to Work Full-Time During College

Here are some ways to balance work and school, from a student who's done it

Working full-time while taking a full load of classes can be hard, it just takes balance. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

You may be surprised to know that not only do most students work throughout college, but about 40% of 4-year college students spend more than half their time in school working at least 20 hours each week. Therefore, if you’re a college student who works full-time, you’re not alone. In reality, many students work full-time during college, whether to pay bills, pay for their education, or gain access to the professional opportunities that come with working full-time.

During most of my time as a student, I’ve worked full-time and taken on a full course load. I currently work full-time, managing multiple part-time jobs outside of school as a server, freelance writer, and Communications Lead at a statewide non-profit. I’m also pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Communications at the University of Minnesota. Almost 70% of students work during college.

Working full-time doesn’t always have to mean sacrificing school, though. For me, working full-time is about starting to build a career for myself, while providing for myself. Pursuing higher education and working full-time can healthily co-exist if you balance them in the right way. Here are some key tips for staying on top of full-time school and work responsibilities, from students with first-hand experience.

BBG's List of How to Balance School and Work
BBG's List of How to Balance School and Work

1. Organize and Prioritize

It may seem redundant to suggest using agendas and calendars to organize your life, but tools like these are essential to balancing full-time school and work. Having a visual representation of different tasks is very helpful in showing you how to prioritize your time. Personally, I’ll use a color-coded Google calendar to keep track of class and work deadlines, as well as any times that I am working in person. Aside from weekly planning, calendars are a great way to have a monthly view of your deadlines, allowing you to recognize major project deadlines and give yourself time to prepare.

Ava Kalenze, a sophomore at the University of Southern California, believes that organization is key to balancing her school work, her two jobs, and her role at an independent radio station. “It’s always the corny response, but I think having a calendar and an agenda is just really important,” Kalenze shares. “Being able to visually see all the tasks that I have or even the places I have to be is really useful for me.”

2. Leave Yourself at Least One Free Day Each Week

When you’re working and going to school full-time, it’s easy to forget to leave time for yourself. That said, if you want to be successful in managing school and work, your mental health has to be in good condition. One of the best ways to ensure this is by setting aside 1-2 days each week for yourself. I learned from experience that free days are a necessity to avoid mental burnout.

Mel Fellrath understands the need to set aside time for yourself. A recent graduate from the University of Minnesota, Fellrath spent nearly a year of their time in college working full-time as a Direct Care Professional at a group home. “One way I [maintained good mental health while working full-time] was just setting aside one day a week that was kind of my off day,” Fellrath explained. During this day, they wouldn’t work or do schoolwork and would instead use the time for themself. “Making sure to set that time aside preemptively…was really helpful.”

Work shouldn’t be your whole life and having free days is an important part of setting boundaries.

3. Set a Schedule

Having a perfectly planned schedule is not for everyone. After all, part of managing multiple responsibilities is being flexible with yourself and your agenda. However, it can be helpful to have a plan for what you’re going to work on during different parts of the day, even if your schedule is just a vague idea. Part of my work responsibilities are done from home, so a schedule is important for me to stay focused and maximize productivity. Even if you work at an in-person job, setting a schedule is useful to help you make the most out of your time at home.

4. Consider Taking Some Online Classes

Online classes can be very beneficial, especially for students who work full-time. It allows for flexibility and creates a schedule that works for you.

Fellrath’s full-time work experience fell in the middle of the pandemic, meaning that they were doing online schooling at the time. “I don’t think I could have worked as many hours as I did had I been in person. I think it allowed me a lot of flexibility.”

5. Use Your Time Off Work

Sometimes, either school or work will have to be prioritized over the other. While it’s great to be dedicated to your job, it’s important to remember that you can take time off when you need it. There will be times when school or your health may need to come first. It’s easy to put too much pressure on yourself when you’re balancing so many things at once, but there’s nothing wrong with taking time off work.

Sometimes, taking time off from one responsibility to make sure you’re succeeding in something else is an important part of balance. As long as you’re not consistently neglecting certain responsibilities, be mindful of the time you need and adjust your availability accordingly.

Why Work Full-Time as a Student

Working and going to school full-time can be intimidating but the reality is that it provides a lot of opportunities to grow professionally, make connections, and earn money. Kalenze uses her jobs to pay for her double major, as the sole financial provider for her degree. “I’ve taken an immense amount of pride in being able to provide for myself in this way and now that I’m able to pursue a double major, I’m like, ‘Wow, I’m paying for myself to get two degrees’ and I’m very proud of that.”

Working during school is also useful in getting a job after college. “I think there [are] a lot of things that you can really only get from working a job and just a lot of connections and skills [to be learned],” Fellrath shares. “All of those things are going to also be super important to getting a job when you graduate, maybe even more so than the degree that you have.”

If you’re struggling with balancing full-time work and school, be patient with yourself and remember that different strategies will work for different people. Find what works for you and make changes based on what you need to succeed.

Hailey Dickinson (she/her) is a creator passionate about using writing and digital content to build community, make connections, and ignite positive social change. She is a Communications Major with a social media emphasis at the University of Minnesota and will graduate in December 2023.