How to Survive College as a Working Student

woman sitting at desk with head in hands 5 min read

The insane cost of a college education isn’t news to anyone. In fact, the average student loan debt per person in 2019 was $31,172. Yikes! It’s no wonder undergraduates and graduates alike are opting to go through university as a working student. Attending university requires a major time commitment whether you are a part-time or full-time student, so how do you manage it all with another job on top of that?

Stay on top of your schedule.

If you aren’t a planner person, you’re going to want to be as a working student. One of the biggest time savers and stress relievers is knowing your schedule ahead of time, or, at the very least, have an idea of what it will look like. Look out for registration and drop deadlines as well as midterms and finals. If your classes have a set schedule, try to get info as soon as possible. Finally, see how this stacks up against your work schedule, and talk to your employer if necessary.

Tip: Make productivity a habit! It’s easier to stay in the groove if it’s something you naturally do. Plus, being self-motivated and productive are great skills to have as an employee.

How I Manage My Schedule

I like to use a paper planner, but these tips can still be done in an electronic calendar. Physically writing things out just helps me remember things better, but the same might be true for others and typing!

  • Review the academic calendar. About a month to six weeks before the semester begins, I hop onto my university’s official website to review the academic calendar. I write down all the registration deadlines, holidays, breaks, and final exam periods for the entire semester in both the monthly and weekly view of my planner. I also highlight the events in blue (one of my school’s colors) so that I can immediately see that there is something school-related that week/month.
  • Write down birthdays and personal events. The next thing I do when I get a new planner is color code and highlight birthdays and personal events in my calendar. I use pink for personal events, but this can be any color you want.
  • Get work-related events into my planner. I actually don’t write down my work schedule every week because it is consistent, but I will write down events such as overtime or days I have to come in early. If your schedule varies, I definitely recommend writing it down every week.

By this point, I should have a good idea of what the semester is going to look like for me, and I work around that. As much as I wish I could, I can’t reschedule finals week, but I can make sure my schedule allows me enough time to study.

Pro-Tip:

There’s no point in keeping a schedule if you aren’t going to follow it. Of course, there are times when something unexpected happens and there is no other choice, but try to stick to your plans as much as possible. If you have time to do something extra, go for it! Otherwise, commit to your plans.

Learn to say no.

Having a schedule means sticking to it. Taking on extra work during finals or going out when you should be studying might not be the best choice. It is possible to balance a social life, school, and work, but you will have to say no to events every once and a while to keep up with classwork.

If you are having trouble saying no because you are a kind soul, try one of the following:

  • “I really have to get some work done. Can we reschedule?”
  • “I can’t right now, but I will let you know when and if I can.”
  • “Thanks for the invite, but I have to study for an upcoming test/midterms/finals.”

The key is to be kind but firm to establish boundaries. Most people will be understanding and happy to reschedule.

person sitting at desk writing in a notebook in front of laptop with text overlay "how to survive college as a working student"
(Image: Arianna Lynne)

Find ways to sneak in study time.

The best way to sneak in some extra study time is to make your study material portable so that you can pull it out when you have a few extra minutes to study. If you only have a few minutes, rather than picking off where you left off and trying to learn something new, spend some time reviewing to reinforce what you have been studying. Here are a few ways you can do that:

Created revised notes.

Instead of bringing all your notebooks around, rewrite a condensed version of your notes that highlight keywords, formulas, dates, and any other key information onto one sheet of paper. Keep your revised notes in a folder or binder in your bag. Pull it out for a quick study session on your lunch break, on the bus, or waiting at the doctor’s office.

Make your study material electronic.

If you aren’t a fan of carrying paper around, you can create digital flashcards with an app like Quizlet or use an electronic notebook like OneNote.

Listen to a podcast, YouTube video, or your own voice.

If the time and place allow, throw on a podcast or video. If you’re up to it, record yourself reading your notes to listen to when you have time.

Turn your notes into a song.

For the musically inclined, turning your notes into a song (or borrowing a tune) might be helpful. You can sing along in your head when you have extra time to study or maybe even during the actual test if you get stumped on a question.

Remember you are a working student.

Emphasis on the “student” and the fact that you are a student first. Most people work throughout college because they want to minimize the impact their student loans have on their future. However, this might mean picking up more work than you can handle and giving up study time. In turn, this could severely impact your grades. If you are struggling to study because of work, it might be time to look into other options to fund your education. Take some time to look into what grants and scholarships are available to you before taking on a loan/increasing your loan. There are a lot of things to know before going to college, but you’ll get a handle on it as long as you stay focused.

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Arianna Lynne
Arianna Lynne

Hey, it’s Arianna Lynne, the creator of Yoga With Mimosas. I am a certified POP Pilates and PIIT28 instructor with an obsession for learning kpop dances. I want to help others find balance between life and fitness. You can reach me at [email protected]

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