Walk into the Olive Garden on McGalliard and you might be seated by Sarah Vrazalich. What you won’t see about Sarah when she leads you to a seat is that she is busy. Hidden behind the menus and smiles is the pile of homework waiting to be done.
But that is for later. For now, Sarah works her shift as a hostess, where she has been for a year and a half and lets the homework sit and wait. She says she sometimes wishes she could do some of her work during lulls at work, but she can’t. It must wait until later.
It must wait, in fact, until she is off the clock and at home. It’s probably going to be a late night, one in a string of many that make up Sarah’s life during the semester.
Ball State professor of adult and community education Joe Armstrong said he encourages students to separate the different parts of their lives.
“I encourage, if you can, to compartmentalize your life,” he said. Complete compartmentalization is impossible, he added, but “the closer you can get, the better.”
For Sarah, this means working while she is at work and leaving homework for the times between and after class and work.
Sleep must wait until the homework and responsibilities have ended and only when that happens may she rest, to wake up and start all over again tomorrow.
A professor of economics at Ball State, Cecil Bohanon, says students have jobs while they go to school for a few reasons.
“One, [college students] need to pay their bills, and two, they like the money,” he said.
Sarah, like 72 percent of college students, according to U.S. Census data, juggle working a job with their classes. Twenty percent of those students work full-time jobs of 35 or more hours each week.
“I would not be able to be in school if I didn’t have a job because I wouldn’t be able to buy the textbooks or afford to live up here,” Sarah says.
Each week Sarah works between 20 and 25 hours during the semester, and closer to 40 hours each week during the summer. By working, Sarah can pay her bills now instead of taking out loans that she will have to pay back later, like she did her freshman year.
“I know [the loan] is just accruing interest,” she said, and she is not excited about having to pay it off.
Students today are taking on more debt than in the past. Cecil said he comes from a middle-class family and that he was able to graduate from a private college with only $500 of debt. Today, the figures are closer to $30,000.
This debt from an education is not necessarily a bad thing, as it can act as a motivator for students, Cecil said.
“There is something to be said for students having some skin in the game,” he said.
For students who work instead of taking out loans, a study by Georgetown University reported, only 14 percent graduate with over $50,000 in loan debt, compared to 35 percent for those who do not work while in school.
Though a scholarship pays for her tuition, Sarah pays for her own books and school supplies and shares the bills for the house she rents near campus with her roommate.
The average rent in Muncie, according to the 2014 Indiana Apartment Market Overview, is $741 per month. Add to this the cost of books, which Ball State’s website allots an estimate of $1,300 for each academic year, as well as the cost of electricity, internet and cable, and the bills can really pile up for many students.
Sarah says she worked in a restaurant in high school and finds it easy to interact with the people whom she meets at Olive Garden.
Though servers at Olive Garden usually make more money than hostesses, Sarah says torn cartilage in her wrists would prevent her from carrying dishes out to customers. Since she makes above minimum wage anyway, Sarah says she is happy not taking that risk.
You can usually find Sarah at her job on the weekends. She says she likes taking weekend shifts because they don’t interfere with any activities she may have during the week. Besides a full class load of 18 credits, Sarah is involved in the American Advertising Federation and Adapt, both organizations that work with clients to create advertising campaigns. She does, though, work different shifts throughout the week, usually lunch shifts on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
“Sometimes when [students] don’t understand how much work [college] is going to be, they take too many classes,” which can cause issues when they have too much on their plates, Joe said.
For Sarah, finding balance was a struggle at first.
She says her job caused tensions between her and some friends who wanted to hang out with her but she didn’t have time.
For Sarah, a balanced schedule means that homework is usually done once she gets back from work. “I usually end up pulling a lot of late nights,” she says. Working more during the weekends each week cuts down on the number of late nights, so she has more time on weekdays to do her work.
Cecil said it is also a fine line for professors, who must balance teaching students the necessary material but not overloading them with work.
“You don’t want to dummy down a course so students can work 40 hours, but you need to be mindful of the needs of students,” he said. “You hope that increased demands for education don’t lead to a dummied-down education.”
Working in a restaurant also gives Sarah a lot of flexibility, she says, and her bosses are very good about working with her schedule and adjusting her hours when necessary. Her work schedule changes weekly, which can sometimes pose a challenge by keeping her from fully committing to future plans.
“I have to wait for the schedule to come out to make plans,” she says, which means she can’t make plans much more than a week in advance.
The flexible scheduling that comes with a job at a restaurant, as well as the prevalence of available restaurants and cafes, are some of the reasons why this industry is so popular for college-aged students, according to Kiplinger, which listed restaurant server as the most common job for college students.
“There’s always somebody willing to pick up shifts,” Sarah says of her coworkers.
Her job also offers her something not many have: a fallback job in case she is not hired right after she graduates. Sarah wants to be move down south after she graduates to work at an advertising firm or go into promotions or branding, but says Olive Garden being a chain restaurant allows her the chance to transfer elsewhere while she searches for careers.
This means guaranteed money, and relative economic security, after she graduates.
To add to this, according to Robert Half Technology, 71 percent of chief information officers look at an applicant’s skills and work experience before their college degree.
In the end, then, working while going to school can sometimes cause more stress, but for many students, work experience and fewer years spent paying off student loans means that the costs are well worth the benefits.
“Usually you find that the students who juggle all these responsibilities are very motivated,” Joe said. “As long as you don’t get in their way, they’ll do well.”