Working While in College: How Do You Find Balance?

By Elianna Wood on April 26, 2021

Ironically, I have been having a hard time completing this article because I was struggling to find a balance between work and school. I mean, when you have to write at least five 1,500-word articles a week, edit for about 12 hours a week, and take 15 credits for college, things can get hectic. After a couple months of this (I’m a freelancer/contractor, so I’ve only been having a high number of orders recently), I ended up having a breakdown last weekend. Twice in a row. It was not pretty.

After desperately playing catchup for a large editing project on Sunday, I began wondering, “Why am I doing this?” Not the existential crisis I was having during my breakdown, just wondering why I was overworking simply to make people happy when I could work less, earn more, and have a better quality of life.

That afternoon, I decided to break my habits. Instead of working nonstop behind my computer screen, I went out to the park with my sister, just to enjoy each other’s company. Afterward, I watched a movie with her and even drove downtown.

Am I saying we should abandon our responsibilities to have fun? No. What I am saying, however, is that sometimes we spend so much time running and racing, we forget about the things that matter most–including our sanity.

Yes, work certainly does matter. When you’re trying to avoid college debt, pay for a decent dorm, or simply save up money for the future, you should work at least part-time during college. Along with helping you financially, this can be a good outlet, especially if your job involves creative activities such as writing or graphic design. However, you do need to find balance, so you can have a good enough quality of life to enjoy it.

Consider Your Type of Work

cashier working while in college

Especially if you haven’t found a job yet, you should carefully consider what you would like to do before sending in applications. Believe it or not, there are a lot of jobs available that can help you gain more experience in your field of interest–even if you haven’t earned your degree yet! Along with looking great on your resume, you can back out of a degree if you find you are not a good fit for the job, while you are still doing your general studies. Also, there are internships available (both paid and unpaid) specifically made for college students, so you don’t have to worry about the stress of working full time.

Personally, I would recommend freelancing if you’re able to do it. Along with giving you more flexibility, you don’t have to get a Bachelor’s degree (which is likely what you’re trying to pay for in the first place… ) or have ten years of experience writing about golden lion tamarin monkeys using WordPress (alright, so maybe a bit of an exaggeration) for the exact same part-time job.

So are there any valid reasons to work as a barista or cashier instead? Yes! If you are concerned you will burn out from doing too much of the same thing, you may want to work in a different industry than what you are getting a degree for. That includes incorporating some mechanical, “mindless” work with brain-intensive studies. Also, you can work less and still contribute to your earnings. With freelance writing, you have to work a little extra to get started and have a consistent flow of clients. Even with part-time work and internships, they expect you to invest quite a bit into your work. If you’re already struggling to balance your responsibilities, you may want to consider a more mechanical job instead. Ultimately, this type of position can help you find balance more easily than other ones.

Even if you are already working, don’t feel that you have to stay where you are! You can resign and find a new job at any time. That’s what I did when I left my cashier position to find a better fit, and I have no regrets. Yes, they will probably act sad and ask you five thousand times about why you are leaving, but ultimately, you have the right to a better-fitting position to find balance, even if your old one is technically considered a decent job.

Make a Schedule

person working computer college

I’m pretty sure I have put this advice in all of my articles so far. But that’s because it is important! Before you apply for a job, take a look at the subjects you are working on. How much time does it take for you to do them comfortably per week? Also, consider your breaks and sleep schedule. What days are the best ones for you to work?

Once you have found this, be sure to do less work than you believe you are capable of doing to find balance. Emergencies happen, along with deadlines that randomly pop up and unusually heavy loads of schoolwork, so you want to be prepared.

While you are working, be sure to prioritize your work and school. Write down what you need to get done for the week if needed, and make a plan for exactly when you will do each thing. Also, break down your responsibilities into smaller segments to avoid procrastination. It’s alright to do schoolwork around your job and rearrange your schedule, but you still need to take these changes into account.

Be Willing to Say No

person saying no

This is more of an issue with freelance, although you may also experience it with an internship or even feel pressured to work more at your part-time job. Especially as you become successful, you will have many clients giving you tempting offers. And honestly, it’s pretty fun responding to them. Until you realize that you have 15 projects to do in three days. Whether it’s through raising prices to have less work, having longer deadlines, or just declining a few of the offers, you need to be able to say no to truly find balance.

If your freelance/contract client asks for you to work outside of your schedule, you need to be able to say no.

If your manager keeps asking you to work holidays or extra hours, but you know it’s going to cause stress and harm your mental health, you need to be able to say no.

If your internship is giving you more work than you agreed on initially, you need to be able to say no.

Admittedly, I struggle with this area a lot. I want to be able to help my clients and make my manager happy. But how can you make them happy if you are on the verge of a breakdown or struggling to even stay awake?

Also, don’t be afraid to include in that “No” a request for help. Do you need a deadline extended? Or do you need fewer work hours? Remember, you are working for your client or boss, not acting as their servant or slave. You have the right to work on your own terms to find balance (so long as they were agreed upon when you accepted the contract and conduct policies and- anyways, you get the point).

For some more helpful tips in saying no and putting your mental health first, feel free to check out this article.

Especially with finals around the corner, it can be really hard to find a balance, but there are ways to do both work and school while maintaining your mental health. Hopefully, this advice helped! If it did, feel free to share on your favorite social media.

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