With the ever-rising cost of education and the need to begin building a resume, part- or full- time employment is increasingly common among college students. According to a 2015 study from Georgetown University’s Center on Education, over 70 percent of college students have held a job while attending school over the past 25 years. Of those working students, 25 percent were holding down a full-time position.
Though employment during college is common and often necessary, it can be difficult for students to navigate the many options for employment, as well as the challenges that accompany committing fully to both work and school.
To gather insight, advice, and answers about the world of student employment, Ball Bearings sat down with five individuals closely acquainted with the subject: Jim McAtee, the director of Ball State’s Career Center and a former employed college student; Michaela McCulley, a freshman interior design student who started working in the Woodworth dining facility in September 2015; Allyson Priestly, a senior history major who has worked at local Mexican restaurant Puerta Al Paraiso since May 2015; David Bilger, the senior manager of the Lifetouch National Contact Center and a former employed college student; and Scott Wise, owner and founder of Scotty’s Brewhouse and a former employed college student.
Ball Bearings: What do you see as some of the benefits of holding an off-campus or on-campus job?
Jim McAtee: There’s benefits to both, obviously. An on-campus job at Ball State University isn’t just a job; it’s a learning experience. We’ve taken the transferrable skills that employers say they want students to have and we’ve infused them into all the on-campus jobs we have. It’s also been found that students who work on campus tend to stay in school and graduate at a higher rate, so there’s something about having that support system that is helping students to persist toward graduation. Off-campus jobs provide those same things; it’s a little less controlled for us, but we still talk to our off-campus partners about how these part-time jobs are a learning experience for students.
Michaela McCulley: I’d say some of the benefits are getting to know the other students, because a lot of them are in the same situation. You have to work to pay for school and you just meet a lot of nice people. Plus the managers are good references for future jobs or anything like that.
Allyson Priestly: I can work more than twenty hours a week at an off-campus job. I’ve never held any on-campus jobs, but I’ve just had a few friends who worked on campus who said, ‘Oh yeah, we can only work twenty hours a week.’
David Bilger: The benefit in particular for off-campus at Lifetouch Contact Center – we’ve got fairly flexible schedules. We will purposefully build a schedule around a student’s schedule. We understand that you pay a lot of money to go to college and that needs to be your priority, but if you can work 12-20 hours a week, that works for us. We also support customers in Spanish, so we have Spanish majors who get to practice their Spanish everyday in different native dialects – plus, the rate of pay is $2.50 higher.
Scott Wise: I think you’re probably going to get a different kind of experience working in a non-Ball State job. I never worked an on-campus job so I can’t speak exactly to what they do, but from my experience with my friends, the type of work you’re doing is completely different from an on-campus job. In that same respect you might find that your senior year comes and you’ve worked your way up to some kind of hourly management role, and you say to me, ‘Hey Scott, I want to grow this company. I like what you’re doing, I see you’re opening a new restaurant in Florida. Could I be considered to transfer?’ If you’ve been working for me for several years you would have the opportunity to do that, where I don’t know in an on-campus job if [you would].
BB: Along the same line, what do you see as some of the disadvantages of an on-campus or off-campus job?
JM: Too often, these part-time jobs are thought of as just part-time jobs, so they become a burden rather than an opportunity. I think it’s all about perspective. I worked part time through college, but I also worked full-time all through college because I had to – it’s not the ideal situation, but you do what you have to do. If a student works too much and puts their studies secondary when they don’t have to, that can be detrimental, so we want to be careful, but people need to live and pay their bills, so their situation dictates how much someone will [have] to work.
MM: Yeah, with working in food service, you get a couple rude customers every now and then, but then some people understand it’s just a job so they don’t get so frustrated. And you get tired! Because you don’t really sit down much and then your breaks are 15 minutes long and that goes by super fast.
AP: They can schedule you more, it can interfere with school – I worked a lot last semester, and when people would want to hang out I’d have to say ‘No, sorry, I have to work.’
DB: For a lot of students it’s their first job. The downside is we did see a lot of students who tried to bite off a lot more than they could chew. Just making sure you can commit equally to your school schedule and work schedule is important. If you make a commitment, make sure that is something that you are able to live up to.
SW: Working off-campus, your first and foremost challenge is transportation. The beauty of on-campus jobs is that they’re close. It seems like getting an on-campus job might be easier; there might be more of those available and a better system on how to find those jobs. With an off-campus job there’s a little more difficulty for us to let people know, ‘Hey, we’re hiring, come apply with us.’
BB: How impactful do you think student employment is on a student’s studies? What is a realistic workload, in your opinion, as far as credit hours and work hours per week for one student?
JM: From experience, I’d say it helps, because being able to apply some of the things you might learn in a classroom to a work environment really helped me internalize material and I was able to do better in class because I was studying, but I also had this job where I could try and apply and practice all of that. We try to tell students, if you can, we prefer students don’t work any more than 20 hours [a week], but you know that’s an individual thing. We all have responsibilities, financial and other, that we need to meet, but the ideal situation, if you’re trying to keep a full course load, is about 20 hours a week, because there needs to be some social time and some time for other things along with study.
MM: It hasn’t really affected my studies much – last semester I ended up getting straight A’s. It would be hard though because I’d work closing shifts and closing shifts are six to nine, so a lot of times I’d want to get off work and go to sleep but I had to stay up and read and study. Last semester I did 15 credit hours and I worked anywhere from 29-40 hours every two weeks, but I’ve known some students who are juniors and seniors who do 18 credit hours and still have a full 40 hours of work every two weeks. One thing is they limit us to 40 hours every two weeks, so if you go over that then you get penalized – if you go over 40 hours every two weeks too many times then you’ll end up getting fired.
AP: Last semester I took 18 credit hours and I worked five out of seven days [a week], so I probably could have worked less. There were a lot of times where I would have to rush and do my homework, or do my homework at work because I just didn’t have time. But last semester was just figuring out how long I could work and stay on top of my studies too, so I’ve learned.
DB: Twelve to 15 hours seems to be a really good fit. We have some students who are able to pull off 40 hours a week. We’ve got people working 20 hours a week and then they have a 12-hour school schedule. It usually depends on your determination, drive and schedule.
SW: I would guess that on-campus jobs probably limit your hours, [but] off-campus, it’s typically we’ll work you as many hours as you want. We don’t try to get in the way of school. We always try to work around someone’s schedule, but that’s probably the difference in an off-campus job versus on. I think the other part that is probably easier with an on-campus job is flexibility. There might be two hour shifts [that are] easier to work around class schedules, whereas a lot of times the hardest staff members for us to attract are the ones that we need during the day from 9am-4pm, [because] a lot of times that’s when classes are. You have those constraints to work around.
BB: In your opinion, is student employment typically enough to cover all of the expenses students have throughout the semester?
JM: I’m not in financial aid or business affairs. However, I can tell you that simple math says that if a student is working 20 hours a week for 32 weeks, because that’s two semesters, they can earn somewhere around $4,500 or so. If you just went to the Ball State website and looked up how much it costs to come to school, including housing, you know, in-state tuition is $18,500, so the initial answer to your question would be no. However, we’re not taking into consideration any financial aid package, scholarships, or grants, other things that students have access to. So I think that when you look at that, it really depends on how students have set up their expenses.
MM: That’s a hard one. I would say it is, but at the same time it isn’t. Ball State is rather expensive and I’m here on scholarships, but usually I use the money that I get from work to buy books and to buy my art supplies because I’m in interior design and we have to buy art supplies, so even when I think I’m saving I have to dip into my savings just to get a new brand of markers or type of paper.
AP: What I make is enough, yeah. I don’t know how other jobs pay, if they pay more, if they pay less, but mine is pretty good. I have noticed when I worked more my paychecks were higher, and when I worked less they were a lot lower.
DB: If we do the math, you make $150 a week [in a starting position with standard hours at Lifetouch], times a tax rate brings it to $128 a week, which is $256 every two weeks and more if you speak Spanish. It certainly depends on your rate of pay and if you’re able to work more hours, but if you live off campus with a few roommates and are sharing expenses it’s certainly doable.
SW: I think it all depends on the job, how much you make and what you’re doing. You could be working at a McDonald’s and if they’re paying nine, 10 bucks an hour, then you’re going to be making what I would assume is pretty decent money. As a waiter or a waitress in a restaurant, it’s hard to pigeon-hole and say, ‘This is exactly how much you’re going to make’ because it’s all based on gratuity and tips. But most of our servers are averaging $12-18 an hour when it’s all said and done.
BB: How accessible are the jobs on-campus or off-campus? Is it typically fairly easy or difficult to find a job if a student wants one?
JM: They’re very accessible. All students need to do is go to Cardinal Career Link and use their Ball State credentials to log in. We had 258 jobs on Cardinal Career Link just this morning, and we have even more internships and full-time jobs. We even have experienced jobs for alumni because we serve students as they graduate and become alumni as well for free. It’s very easy to find them on CCL. The application process is very simple. If a student wants a job, they’ll find one.
MM: Oh yeah it was really easy. I actually live in Woodworth and dining had the little paper showing that they were hiring, so I walked to Carmichael Hall and did the training and I ended up getting the job on the spot. When I signed up, the hours were kind of limited, but then as you get here some people drop shifts so you can pick up a shift, and then this semester now I have the schedule the way I want it. So it’s pretty easy.
AP: Yeah, mine was easy. A friend told me they were hiring, so all I did was go online and fill out an application and they called me within the week. It probably helps because they were a new restaurant too, so they were just going through who applied and finding people.
DB: We’re going to have a big rush to hire for the fall season in February, March – word of mouth got out pretty well last year. In the interview process we probably hired 70 percent of the Ball State students that were good candidates – we lost some because the school/work balance wasn’t right for them. We had over 500 Ball State students working here in fall, so from my perspective the ease of getting a job here is high. If you are enthusiastic, have high energy and like helping people, we will show you everything else.
SW: At our restaurant, we’re always hiring, we always need people. Again, everybody’s going to have their different positions but for us, we’re constantly bring in new people. Because again, you’re trying to work around hours, and some people can only work certain days of the week and things like that.
BB: What struggles have you seen or experienced as far as students securing jobs, or with student employment in general?
JM: We would hope that when students look at a job, they’re not just looking at the service provided or a product, but they’re looking at what skills it takes to bring that product to the market, and how they fit into that process. So just trying to help students learn more about what organizations are out there and what opportunities are there for them, and not just look at what it is you’re going to be doing, but look at, ‘How is that job going to add to my skill set so I can be more competitive in the future?’
MM: Sometimes you think about ‘Do you really want the job?’ because you’re having a good nap after class and then your alarm goes off and it’s like ‘Dang, gotta get up, gotta go to work,’ and you’re just tired, and you never really get to sit down. You’re on your feet all day. I mean, that’s the only thing. The employees are super nice, the full-time and part-time workers are always nice.
AP: Before I applied [to Puerta Al Paraiso], I applied several other places and it would either take forever to hear back or you’d never get an interview. I feel like it’s a lot harder if you don’t know the right people to get a job off-campus, and on-campus too. Because a lot of the jobs on campus are catered toward specific people in their majors, so if you don’t fit that, then it’s like nope, sorry.
DB: Some of the challenges we have are probably clear expectations on our part, and then the newness that comes with a first job – just finding common ground and what the expectations are. Some people interpret flexible scheduling as, ‘I can work any time I want,’ but we can’t change someone’s schedule four or five times a semester, so just having a shared understanding of how scheduling works. If something does come up, like you need a few extra days to study for finals, we’ll work with you on that.
SW: I think it’s mostly scheduling, not even just class schedules but even with social calendars. You’re going to find people in a fraternity or sorority that have plans or events on the weekend, or homecoming. Most people know if you’re working in the retail world, you’re going to be working those odd hours. Hopefully the flip side is that you’re working more hours and making more money for it, so it’s kind of a give and take.
BB: Overall, do you feel that employment during college has a positive or negative effect on a student as they move into the future?
JM: I think if it’s managed properly, it can be a huge benefit. The idea that you can walk across campus or hop on the MITS bus and go to work and learn transferable skills that employers today are telling the Career Center, ‘We’re looking for people who have these skills’ I just think that’s invaluable. And so, I think balanced and managed the right way, part-time employment while in school enhances your education. I think it can enhance your grades, your GPA, and I think it can also enhance your interest, because once you see how things connect, you can get passionate about that.
MM: I believe it’s had a positive effect on me because I didn’t have a job before college, and I think now that I’m really learning how to manage my time I think I’d actually encourage everybody to get a job during college. You don’t take [free time] for granted when you have a job because your time is already limited. Because then you’re like, ‘Oh, I can’t slack off, I have to get this done.’ It keeps you motivated.
AP: It’s had a positive effect. I’ve worked at where I work [Puerta Al Paraiso] since May, so I’ve had time to get to know the people I work with, and so going to work and seeing all of them all week is pretty fun, and I’ve made good friendships with everybody that works there.
DB: I will wholeheartedly endorse getting any kind of employment a student can get. The schedules and life changes and obligations don’t get any easier, so I think if you commit to getting your good grades in college and earning your degree and also commit to a good job, that is a pretty great practice in balancing your priorities. We’ve been blessed to have a partnership with the Career Services team [at Ball State], because we love students at our company and need students all the time.
SW: A lot of times school isn’t just about school. It’s about time management, it’s the first time in life that you’re on your own without parents watching you, and everything is up to you to make sure you’re able to manage yourself. I can tell when I have a kid working for me that is paying for their own school, paying their way to live: you can just see it in them that they work really hard. For me, I love working around college campuses because the energy of college kids is just awesome. You can’t put your finger on exactly where it comes from, but it’s people that are fresh to the world and new to experiences. The world is at their doorstep, and you get to see that firsthand.
*Responses have been edited for clarity