How to Mix Work and School

Marissa Boulerice, Bentley University Class of 2014, went to school four days a week, participated in a twenty five hour a week work study at her school’s Alumni, Friends, and Family Office, and held a one day intern position at New England Revolution. “I wasn’t receiving help from my family, and I had a loan I knew I’d need to pay off. I’m still paying it off,” she says. “I have a part-time job as well as the full-time marketing position I was offered after graduation. I’ll probably keep both until I’ve got a better handle on my debt,” says Boulerice.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, College enrollment has increased 32 percent between 2001 and 2011. That’s 21 million people paying tuition expenses, housing rent, dining plans, textbook fees, and who knows what else. Colleges have cashed in on that surplus by charging $19,339 in 2011 for all tuition, room, and board, compared with $11,380 in 2001. With tuition becoming more and more expensive, students who don’t have the benefit of adequate financial aid or familial assistance are being forced to extend their working hours, even while attending school full time.

NOT REALLY SEEING THE PROBLEM

Elise Harrison, Director of Emerson College Counseling and Psychological Services, is adamant about making time for school. “I think it is difficult to be a full-time student and to work more than twenty hours,” says Harrison. Students sometimes convince themselves they can handle the added pressure and, when they find themselves stressed out, they are confused why.

“We don’t see a lot of people who specifically complain about job worries. We generally see people who are dealing with anxiety which often results after prolonged stress. Most people don’t complain about the number of hours they work, and we find out when we ask questions about their work/play balance.”

Harrison explains that, most times, students feel like they have to keep their elevated work hours, because it is a responsibility. Their parents are proud that they are working so hard, or that they are taking this burden of doing things on their own like a real adult. Many students are unaware of the consequences that come from overwhelming themselves from so much activity.

Some undergraduates may not have help from parents with tuition or rent costs. “We have kids come in all the time telling us about financial need, but mostly they feel competent when they work so many hours. They like the feeling of doing something that is real and building their future,” says Harrison. Even so, the long hours soon produce the opposite effect on the students.

EMPLOYERS DO CARE

Leah Matthews, a manager at one of Massachusett’s many HomeGoods locations, hires college applicants living in the Allston area every season. Matthews says that students often ask for more than twenty hours. With a staff that comprises usually of up to 45% college students, she’s used to making room for school. “Around finals weeks, we’re used to getting requests for time off. That’s study time, and we respect that. Even at the interview, we want them to understand that school comes first,” says Matthews.

Matthews says that it always surprises her when, despite originally applying as holiday help, most students choose to stick around after the time period ends. Instead of making a bit of money and then returning to focus on school, they stay and tough it out. “The kids like to somehow make it work. They feel like they have an obligation to afford their schooling,” says Matthews.

THE HOURS ONLY GROW

Time off is not the only issue, though. Ashley Exantus, a University of Massachusetts-Boston sophomore, is used to working anything and everything. “I’ve come in at our opening time at 9:30 on weekday mornings, and I’ve stayed until 10pm on weekend nights. When you need money, you need money. It doesn’t really matter how late or early they schedule you, even if you have an 8am class the next morning,” says Exantus.

Add in commute time, and work shifts only lengthen. “I live out in Jamaica Plain, I work in Allston, and my school is in way out on the peninsula,” says Exantus. “If I’m working the closing shift and have school the next morning, no amount of coffee can make me feel awake in class.”

HOW TO BALANCE

Elise Harrison, Director of Emerson College Counseling and Psychological Services, advises students to find way to relieve their stress just a little bit every day. In her opinion, just a small action, taking up a tiny portion of the day, can help ease tension or overwhelming thoughts. There a few possible options students can try that make the stress of mixing full time work and school a bit easier to handle.

1) Create a Mindfulness Practice. This could be a simple walking meditation where one closes their eyes and walks a few steps back and forth breathing deeply and slowly to calm their heart rate and their mind.

2) Breathe in while whispering the word yes, and breathe out while whispering the words thank you. This is an exercise to center yourself and make you comfortable and happy with yourself. You are your own best friend.

3) Sit down for just five minutes of calm reflection. Sitting for eleven minutes has health benefits, but with busy schedules this is not always possible. Harrison recommends at least five minutes of quite reflection, and advises to think on good accomplishments and future aspirations.

4) Learn to prioritize. If something is due soon, get that done. Talk to your employee and try to work out a flexible arrangement for school work. You’ll see that they are usually lenient when it comes to school.

5) Organize time to do academic work and make time for play. Though this is similar to

6) Prioritizing, this has to do with socializing. Friends are important, but going out with the roommates can wait until you’ve finished that midterm paper. If you fail that next quiz, you won’t be so happy with those friends who convinced you that party was a better use of your time.

SCHOOL COMES FIRST

There are also restrictions in place to help students get their hours and make time for school. Joshua Hamlin, director of Emerson College’s Max Mutchnik Campus Center, employs exclusively from the student body. He says there is a ceiling of twenty hours to every school work study program to ensure that students aren’t overwhelming themselves with the mix of classes and employment. “We have a set schedule from the first day of classes to the last day of classes. During finals week, the shifts are based on sign ups, so the students decide what they can handle,” says Hamlin. However, he also says the students find their own ways around the safety net. If a student is part of multiple work study programs, or has a job outside of school, then their hours are up to them.

One way or another, a student has to do what feels right. Campus Center Director Joshua Hamlin says the best advice for students struggling with stress over the mixing of work and school was to find a balance between the two. Hamlin says, “It’s okay to say no, whether to your friends or your boss. School comes first, otherwise you aren’t giving that full attention or the level of detail to it that it deserves.”

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