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Paying for College: Learning and Working

college shirt

image by Scott Beale

Several weeks ago I wrote about paying for college and some basic ways this could be accomplished.  The list of ways to pay for college is quite long, but the one way people debate endlessly is the concept of having the student work while in school.  Let’s discuss both sides of this coin.

First, let’s discuss the option of working through school.  There is a school of thought out there that says students who work while in college don’t fare as well as those who aren’t tied to the commitment of a job and so they CAN’T work during school.  That’s a myth.  I worked the entire time it took me to earn my Associate, Bachelor and Master’s degrees.  I worked at least 20 hours per week during the undergraduate years and 40+ was the norm during my Master’s program.  I graduated with zero debt and made excellent grades.  I graduated in two years with my Associate, two more with my Bachelor and two more with my MBA.  There are thousands of students who graduate from colleges all over the country who share this story.  So saying a student CAN’T work during college is a lie.

There is another school of thought that says students who work while in college fare better than those who don’t work because it teaches them responsibility, time management, etc. and so they MUST work during school to build these attributes.  That’s also a myth.  My wife was blessed to have parents who saved throughout her adolescence and thus were able to pay for her college education.  She never had to work to pay for her schooling and yet she remained focus, kept good grades and found me (which was the most important thing, of course!).  Students who don’t work of course have more time for which they can dedicate to their studies, but it also means they have more time to dedicate to any other activity of their choosing.

So which is the better way to go – work or no work?  There is no right answer for everyone.  If I’m a parent, it is my responsibility to teach my children to be responsible, productive citizens who honor God with their lives.  If that means I have a child who “needs” to work during college to avoid partying on the weekends and sleeping until noon, I will most certainly make my kid get a job (or kick his tail for being such a slacker).  Or maybe he just wants to earn some extra cash and has proven he can handle himself with the responsibility of a job plus schooling – I’m okay with that.  If I have a child who does well with studies, but is responsible with her free time and doesn’t want to work – I’m okay with that as long as the financial aspect of her schooling is covered.  What I’m getting at is this: working during college is an important decision that has to be faced with the right approach.  Let me explain.

Having seen it go both ways in my own experience tells me it is unreasonable to assume one way is superior to the other.  But sitting down with a 17 or 18 year old kid and talking through his/her goals during college and taking a realistic look at the financial aspect of the next four or so years is a very powerful exercise.  How many parents do that for their kids?  I suspect it is a pretty low number.  My guess is that most parents don’t believe their children are mature enough to make a good decision so they either don’t discuss it at all or tell them cart blanche that they will or will not allow their child to work during school.  I have no scientific data to back that up, but I know it to be true in my circle of friends.

Here’s my challenge.  If you’re a young parent, save for your child’s education if you can afford it in your budget.  Save with the expectation your child won’t need the money but prepared if he does.  As your child reaches the age of 14 or 15, start having the discussion of what he will do with the money he earns, because at that age there are really only two big saving goals for most kids: cars and college.  Help him make good choices with his money and you might be astonished how far he matures by the time he is ready for college.  If your child is a bit older, make up for lost time!  Even though your teenager may not tell you he likes it when you help him with major life decisions, I promise he does.  And when time for college arrives, allow him to make the choice (with your help) of whether or not to work based on the financial situation, his approach to study, his maturity level and what makes sense for your family.  One last thought.  If your child decides to go the route of getting a job, make sure it is the right one.  The last point of my previous post on this subject addresses that.  Please read it before applying ANYWHERE.

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  1. Kayla@Cash Flow Your College

    So true! If your parents blessed you with financial backing for your college years, by all means focus hard on your studies and don’t spend it frivolously! If you are headed through college with little to no financial help from your parents, don’t be afraid to get a job…and don’t automatically think you’ve got to take out student loans.

    My parents paid for my first semester (the equivalent of how much they paid toward my oldest sister’s degree), but I worked work study for almost all of college plus full time in the summers. I sought out a college that was in my price range (assuming I worked through college) and had some solid scholarships. I’m grateful to have graduated last May with $0 in debt!

    1. Barry

      Congrats on graduating debt free! Great points. Thanks for chiming in on the conversation.

  2. Live and Learn

    This might sound crazy but I wish I had parents that cared about me. I am now 2 years post undergrad ( with a BA) been sick for all 4 years and got sicker a few months ago and also having to deal with alot of emotional and physical highs and lows and just wish I had the support from my parents. despite how hard it is to manage sometimes, I have not given up. I believe that despite the lack of support I have from my parents, God will do something awesome.

    I still at times do wish that my parents would look at my sister and I and actually feel love for us. a genuine love for us, not guilt, not fear, but love.

    Reading this article has given me hope that despite my large student loan debt and other crazy things life threw at me, that there is a way out!

    I think it is important that parents sit down and talk to their children in high school about their future plans. Do not dictate, or lecture but actually listen and give valuable advice. Teach them about money, how to spend and how to save. Teach them how to deal with loans and help them along their way if you cannot pay for their schooling. And young people my age need to learn and foster discipline and have clear cut goals. Partying is NOT an option. there are many other ways of having fun. And make sure fun doesn’t take more than 10 percent of your weekly activities! and if you are sick, like i was, take a break! Running yourself to the ground will make you sick and you will be more than likely to make poor choices.

    If I can spare someone the pain i’m going through now, I will do whatever I can to spread the word to both parents and college aged /highschool children!

    1. Barry

      This is an inspiration to me. I talk to way too many people who don’t care about or even think about their future long enough to make plans. Thanks for sharing your heart.

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