Working While Going to College: It Can Be Done

By Beth Dumbauld

Working While Going to College

You always planned on going to college. Or perhaps you always planned on going back to college. Somehow, however, life got in the way. You work. You have family commitments. Still, a college degree is a goal you haven’t put to rest; though the balancing act of school, work, and family may make achieving your college dream seem out of reach.

Yes, managing your time with multiple commitments can be daunting. The benefits, however, of obtaining your college degree are worth working through your concerns. Young adults (ages 25-34) with a bachelor’s degree consistently make more than those without, more than twice as much.1 Furthermore, college graduates, over the course of their work life, on average, earn nearly $650,000 more than high school graduates.2

Are you looking for a higher level of job security? A college degree may provide a buffer when there are layoffs. For some, such as nurses, a college degree is now a requirement to keep your current position. Are you looking to be promoted? Some employers won’t even look at promoting an employee to upper level positions unless they have that degree – and some companies offer tuition assistance programs to help employees advance their careers. For hiring managers, a college degree is a starting point; without it, you may be out of the job race before you have even begun.

Most Students Work

It may come as a surprise for those on the outside of the post-secondary world, but most students work as they pursue their degree. In fact, over 78 percent of undergraduates work while enrolled, and that doesn’t even include “non-traditional students” like working adults. On average, employed students spend almost 30 hours per week working while taking classes. This figure has been consistent over time -- and has changed little since the mid-’90s.3

Want to know more about the working student? Here are some interesting facts:

  • About one-quarter of full-time students work full time.
  • One-third of working students describe themselves as employees who study. These individuals—most of whom are older and attend college part time—continue to hold the jobs they had prior to enrolling in college.4
  • Employees who study are more likely than students who work to report that their major and their job are related (54 percent versus 31 percent), suggesting that many employees who study enroll in order to advance in their current careers.5
  • Even though research has shown that working 15 or fewer hours per week—ideally, on campus or in a position related to one’s academic interests—has a positive effect on persistence and degree completion;6 only a small percentage of students actually work on campus. The vast majority of students work off-campus (91 percent)7 and thirty-eight percent of students say that their job is related to their academic major.

Two-thirds of working students state that their primary reason for working is to pay tuition, fees, and living expenses.8

Most students need to work to pay for college. As you pursue your degree and stay on the job, you will be part of the many.

Working While Going to College

1 U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Educational Statistics. (2011). The Condition of Education, 2011 (NCES 2011-033), Indicator 17

2 Pew Research Center, Is College Worth It?: College Presidents, Public Assess, Value, Quality and Mission of Higher Education, May 2011, p.1

3 Acenet Issue Brief, Working Their Way Through College, May 2006, p.1


5 Acenet Issue Brief, Working Their Way Through College, May 2006, p4

6 Acenet Issue Brief, Working Their Way Through College, May 2006, p.1

7 Acenet Issue Brief, Working Their Way Through College, May 2006, p4


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