Working Part Time While Studying – Is It A Good Idea?

Working while studying, yes or no?

Assalamualaikum,

This weekend was my lazy weekend – I slept in and was on the phone (audio/video call) with Aiman for most of the weekend. I was talking to him about the part-time job interview I had last week (which I wrote in my last post, Let’s Go, #HudFreshers), which I (Alhamdulillah) ended up getting and was updating him on my working arrangements and all.

Yep, that’s right, I got the job! It’s a part-time job, obviously, because as a Tier 4 student in the UK, I’m only allowed to work up to 20 hours a week while I’m studying. But that wasn’t an issue for me anyway – I only had a total of 8 hours of class time per week, and I really don’t think that spending the rest of my time either locked up in my studio or pouring over books/articles in the library is a good thing to do for my mental health. So I’ve been looking for ways to fill up my time so I don’t die of boredom (because, honestly speaking, Netflix-ing and Nintendo-Switch-ing gets a bit tiring after doing it for days on end without stop).

University of Leeds.
A visit to the potential job location.

Plus – I’ve always been a sucker for working part-time while studying. Back in the US, except for my first semester of college, I worked for the most part of my undergraduate life. I know I needed to have something to do to get my mind of studying, so part-time job it is. At one point of my college life, there was a time that I actually held three part-time jobs at the same time.

A lot of my friends in the US worked as well – in a variety of odd jobs around campus (because as international students in the UK, we can only work on campus fyi), so it was kind of like a ‘given’ that we’d be working at least one part-time job throughout our studies. Some, like me, might have held more than one part-time job, depending on our programs and interests (some became teaching assistants, research assistants, helped out at the dining halls, become a student union member, etc).

So, why do students work part-time?

I decided to post up some polls / questions on Instagram (@syazanazura) and on Twitter (@nazu2308) – just to see what other people think. Granted – most of the responses are from my circle of friends / networks (especially on Instagram, not so on Twitter since I asked some Twitter-famous people to help me RT the polls out to their followers), so they’re obviously *not* a collective response of everyone. But they’re a good indicator, I think?

Side note: If you’re interested to see the poll and responses on Twitter, you may read it on this thread here.

During one of my shifts at the library. Magod, I look so selekeh (but my tudung was on point though)

Reason 1: It’s all about the money, money, money

One of the most common responses I received was that students work for the extra money. Of course, money is the first thing that comes to mind when you go to work (either part-time or full-time), you’re getting paid anyway – so it’s not unexpected.

For me, I was lucky and privileged enough to be in the receipt of a monthly allowance (as I was sponsored by MARA throughout my 4 years of undergraduate), so any extra money earned through my part-time jobs was mainly used to (1) supplement the monthly allowances, and (2) save up for my travels (I wrote more about this in my Life as a Badger Part 2 post, do read that if you’re interested to learn about the ~RM700,000 investment in my studies).

But for most people, either those studying locally in Malaysia or abroad, funding might be an issue. Most people may not be lucky enough to secure funding for their studies, others might opt to not take out the PTPTN loan, or some (like mentioned in the Twitter thread), might be unlucky that their funding got cut halfway through their studies. 

In their cases, working part-time during their studies was their only option in getting extra money to fund their studies – be it to pay for their tuition fees, to support their living expenses, to pay for ACCA / other professional papers, or just to survive. Those who came from a less-privileged family, especially, use this as a way to reduce the burden on their parents, which is a respectable choice.

Some people also work to save up for future goals (be it to get married, to buy a house, to go on a trip with friends / families, to buy that new tech gadget, etc). In this case, it’s definitely good to start saving, especially as a student, because (1) most people don’t have a lot of commitments yet, and (2) you can gain from the compounding interests on your savings.  

Personally for me, some of the money I saved from my part-time jobs in the US were used to cover some of my wedding expenses (mainly for my photographer/videographer, because I wanted my favorite photographer and he was hella expensive and famous). But it felt much more satisfying considering how I paid for it using my own money, instead of the money from my allowance or from my parents.

Reason 2: For the skills and experiences

With an increasing number of people graduating from higher education institutions in recent years, getting a degree alone is not enough to secure employment after graduation. You are competing with a lot more people in the job market, and you have to do whatever it takes to be able to stand out among the crowd of jobseekers. After all, one out of five graduates are unemployed, and we all do not want to be farming grapes (read: tanam anggur = menganggur), right?

With some of the library staff that I worked with – Ian in the back was my supervisor and he was super friendly and kind!

If you read this article by EduAdvisor, some of the things that you can do to boost your employability is to develop your career capital and boost your soft skills. This can be done in many different ways – one of them is by having a part-time job (or multiple part-time jobs) while you’re studying.

One of the easiest skills to develop is definitely your time management skill. By being a full-time student and a part-time worker, you’d need to learn how to prioritize your work/life balance. You’d need to manage your time wisely between going to classes, going to work, knowing when to study and when to rest, when to have some time off to relax and enjoy with family and friends. 

For example, one of my jobs while I was studying was as a student assistant at the library. My job was easily one of the easiest on-campus job, as I get to study while I’m at work. What’s more, I have the ‘best’ shift of all – the graveyard shift (midnight to 8am). I said ‘best’ because of two reasons – (1) it’s super quiet so you get to focus on your work, and (2) I am a midnight owl anyway and my brain works best at night. So I get to kill two birds with one stone – earn some pocket money and finish all my homework and assignments (mind you, overnight shifts get paid a lot more too as compared to day shifts, so jackpot baby!)

Depending on the job(s) you do, you’d also get to develop other skills – management skills, communication and interpersonal skills, writing / listening skills, research skills, tutoring skills, etc. And, who knows, maybe what you learnt during your part-time job can help you in your full-time jobs in the future?

It did for me, anyway. I had a 2.5 years stint at my university’s Admissions Office, helping the admissions counselors in dealing with queries from applicants on the application and admissions process. Since the university receives a fair share of applicants from abroad, I was exposed to the different qualifications out there in the world, and saw how each are equivalent (or not) to a high school diploma. I also had the chance to see first-hand on how a student services office work, being in a customer-facing environment, and that helped me in my job at Monash University Malaysia, where I deal with students (and occasionally parents) on a daily basis.

Reason 3: To build network and connections

My favorite part about working part-time is the number of people you’ll meet at work. As a business student during my undergraduate, I don’t get to see a lot of non-business students in most of my classes (unless I take non-business electives, which I try to do at least once per semester). 

During my last ever shift with my supervisor, Brooke (in grey) and Neva (the girl with the super awesome hair omg)

So my colleagues at work are one of my ways to branch out and meet other people from other schools and programs – which is cool because I get to hear and see things that I wouldn’t have known if I stayed within my business school (and Malaysian) friends.

For people who can work off-campus (i.e. Malaysian students who work in retail stores, bakeries, restaurants, etc), you’ll get more out of your connections and networks. You’d get to meet people from all walks of life – those who graduated already, those who opt to not pursue a degree, those from a different background/pathway, everything. This can help to broaden your perspective in life, you get to learn from their stories and, I don’t know, perhaps get advice from them on a lot of things (life, studies, work and career, etc). 

I’m actually still in contact with some of my supervisors from my time in the US. They helped me by being my references when applying to graduate schools, they helped me figure out what career(s) I might be interested in, they helped me by offering to be my reference whenever I’m looking for a job, and they’re genuinely interested in my life updates (i.e. when I was getting married, etc). They became like my second (or third) mother, making sure I was doing okay in life and supporting me in all that I do.

But, is working part-time while studying suitable for you?

One of the biggest issues raised with working part-time while studying is of course, the time needed to actually work. Some people, on the Twitter/Instagram polls, said that their programs and schedules are too busy that they couldn’t slot in time to work. This is, of course, understandable. Some programs, like Medicine, are so taxing and demanding that you just wouldn’t have time to work part-time.

And it’s not your fault. Your first reason of going to university is to study, and there are tons of other opportunities that you can take to work on your soft skills / save some money / network with people that does not involve you spending 5-15 hours of your time every week at work. You could join a club (sports or interest clubs), go volunteering every other week, get an internship or a placement during your semester break, or attend conferences and symposiums that can be both useful for your academic studies, but also beneficial for your networking and communication skills.

Some students also chose not to work, not because their schedules don’t allow them, but because they’re not sure if they can cope with managing the extra workload. That is also completely fine if you’re feeling that way – no harm in admitting that. I didn’t work during my first semester of college because I wasn’t sure on how to properly manage my life as a university student, and, once I got the hang of it after the first semester, I got my first job at the library and started from there. 

You could always start small and slowly grow from there. Instead of jumping the gun and working for like, say, 15-20 hours a week (which is the maximum hours for international students in the US/UK, not sure about other countries), you can start with maybe taking up 5-10 hours a week first. Learn how to manage your time and schedule with less working hours, and, once you get used to it, you can start to increase your hours if you feel like doing so.

To do this, one advice I have is to know yourself well. Know your body clock, your self-preference, and what’s best for you. For example, I knew I wasn’t a morning person, and that I study better at night than in the day. So I tried to not have any morning shifts (because I have a hard time waking up in the morning), and try to see if I can schedule my hours for later in the evening and/or night, when it’s usually a lot quieter in the library and I have time to work on some assignments.

The type of jobs that you look for also plays a role in determining whether or not it’s going to work out well for you. If you work in a fast-paced environment, for example, a restaurant, a cafe or a dining hall, you’ll probably get tired pretty fast – which can make it harder if you have to go to class right after your shift. If you can find a slow-paced job (like a library job like mine), it’s a lot quieter and you won’t get as tired after work (unless you work a long 8-hour shift like me, that’s a different story).

At the end of the day, it’s all on YOU.

Whatever it is – you have to first learn about yourself and figure out your reason(s) if you choose to work. This is very important as to keep your motivation running, because there would be times when you’d feel like not going to work (especially if you’ve had a long day in classes or if you just finished a long exam). You also need to sacrifice some things when you work – i.e. less time to hang out with friends, having to work over weekends and/or holidays, etc, so you have to decide on whether or not it’d be useful for you.

I would personally recommend that everyone at least try to work one part-time job throughout their studies, because you can learn a lot from the experiences. You’ll develop new skills, meet new people, earn some extra cash and learn more about yourself as a person. But at the end of the day, everyone is different and has different preferences and come from different situations and backgrounds – so find out what works for you and make the most out of it 🙂

That’s all from me now, I better sign off because this is getting too long. Until next time – stay awesome 🙂

October 1, 2018
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2 Comments

  • Reply Chung Poh Yin

    First time reading yr story, u r sharing it with quite a useful article to students, including me. U seem like a extrovert person and open minded. U r motivating. Thanks for sharing.

    October 5, 2018 at 8:04 am
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