Do Most College Students Have a Job While Going to School?

The cost of a college education has historically increased in price at around 8% per year. Decades ago, when I went to school, I was under the impression that most students held a job while working on their education and preparing for a career of some kind. Additionally, it appeared most college students not only held a job but they worked full time. This was particularly the case for college students that were not only managing the cost of tuition and books but also paying for living expenses.

With the average cost of a college education today in the United States estimated at around $35,720, not including living expenses, the question many people have is how to pay for it all. Do most college students need to hold a full-time job while they are going to school? Moreover, are most of the students today working out of necessity while in school to pay for their education, and should a college student work 40 or more hours per week while trying to obtain a college degree?

Several education experts agree that working while in college does have its benefits. However, there is a difference between working for spending money and taking on a job to pay the rent. There can be a diminishing return on the benefits of working while in college when juggling excessive hours at a job and studying for school.

The problem with a college education today is the price has gotten so high that the average student loan debt at graduation has increased by 86% over the last two decades for a Bachelor’s degree. Working 40 or more hours a week today while attending a University is becoming more of a gamble as studies show a major reason about 40% of the students who enroll and do not graduate is due to financial reasons.

If you are a young adult getting ready to go to college or a parent of one, you need to know if a full-time job is going to be required to maintain living and education expenses. Furthermore, it’s important to know if working 40 or more hours while attending school full time is both realistic and a good idea to ensure success.

Your Parents College Advice is Outdated

The first thing you need to know about working while in college is the advice of previous generation college students is outdated. The reason for this is a college education today is more expensive than it probably ever has been. If you are a parent telling your child to just take on student debt and work full-time while in college because this is something you had to do while you were attending a University, you need to know things are not the same.

A Bachelor’s degree today with an average amount of student loan debt now takes on average over 20 years to repay. This is much longer than the standard 10-year repayment plans communicated to previous college student generations. Moreover, more young adults are seeking a higher level of education which increases the competition for jobs after graduation. This is in addition to a fresh supply of college graduates each year for employers to choose from.

Doing well in college and getting to graduation day is extremely important. This is particularly the case when high amounts of student loan debt are factored into the success or failure rate of receiving a college degree. Because working a full-time job while managing a full schedule at school can be a challenge, it is important to ensure school comes first.

Your Parents College Advice Is Outdated

Previous generations of college graduates lived in a different economic, social, and working world than young people today. At one time just having a college degree almost did ensure financial security. This is no longer the case today and therefore your parent’s advice on paying for college is likely outdated.

Young people today are still being told that a college education is the only path to success and a financial future. Parents are conveying this as well as educators. It is just no longer the case. Having a college education can be better than not going. However, there are no guarantees.

Is It A Good Idea to Work Full Time While in College?

Working more than 40 hours each week while seeking a college education can have pros and cons. Obviously for someone that needs the money to pay rent and eat working a full-time job is a requirement while in school. Having a place to live and eating are the benefits. However, there can also be some additional advantages that might include an increase in confidence. Yet, most experts agree that students working more than about 20 hours a week regularly leads to a decrease in the success of pursuing a college education.

Although there can be some rewards to full-time work while in college, there are many more disadvantages.

What are some of the disadvantages of working full time while in college?

The dropout rate becomes high while holding a full-time job in college

The problem with working a full-time job that pays the rent while attending college is it can get in the way of studies because of the importance of that job. It can leave a college student with having to choose between falling behind in school or being late on their rent. Worse yet, it could lead to a college student needing to drop out. In this case, the evidence shows that few students who leave school without reaching graduation ever return.

The amount of student loan debt college students take on today in combination with the stress of getting to graduation to hopefully pay it all back makes it that much more challenging to work full-time while seeking a college degree today. If there is a need to work 40 or more hours a week while going to college, students should know there is a big gamble of it eventually becoming too much to do both successfully. The even larger stake is the possibility of having to drop out of school due to financial reasons. This can be a disastrous result when a high amount of student loan debt is added.

Doing well in class can be challenging while working over 40 hours a week while in college.

Working full-time can clearly take away from the time a college student has to study. This is especially true with young people seeking a college education because they are also trying to have a social life. Spending time with friends, dating, and working a job many hours can make it hard for finding the time to put studying at the top of the list for college. Organizing time for everything that includes keeping good grades often results in loss of sleep.

Although young adults going to college seem like they can get by many times on little sleep, not getting enough rest will start to likely be a problem at some point. The result is good school grades being difficult to maintain.

Another thing most people do not understand with maintaining work and school full-time is everyone does not learn at the same speed. Someone that is extremely gifted with academics might have no problem juggling 40 hours of work and a 15-credit hour school schedule. However, this is not going to be the case with everyone. One person might need only a few hours of studying each day while another might only succeed with putting in more time. For an average or below-average college student, working many hours and studying can be a struggle.

A college student’s health both physically and mentally can deteriorate without getting enough sleep, exercise, and social time. This is probably one of the largest problems with not having enough time for work, school, and life.

A college student’s social life can suffer if they also work full time.

As already mentioned, a person’s social life can be hard to organize if they are working and going to school full-time. This can include time with friends and family. There is no doubt all of this can have negative results on someone’s grades at school.

The problem with college and a person’s social life being impacted is it really can have long-term negative results. The reason for this is college is not just about academics. This is likely even more true today. Getting an education is certainly important and can play a role in career success. Yet, who you know and not exactly what you know might be more important today than it ever has been.

Having the social time to make long-term friends and contacts that will last following college graduation is extremely important today. Working full-time will limit the amount of time someone has to work on their social circle in college. This could potentially impact employment prospects after graduation.

There is a valid argument to a student working full-time in their college field of study and having a leg up on employment after graduating. However, very few college students work a full-time job in their area of study prior to graduation.

Working full-time while in college might hurt student aid.

A big problem with a college student that works a full-time job is almost always the impact it has on student financial aid. This can be an issue particularly for students that come from low-income families

There is a calculation for student financial aid that includes an allowance for earned income. This is both for dependent and independent students. The allowance for the 2020-2021 school year is $6,840 for dependent students and $10,640 for independent students. The issue here lies with the independent student earning $10,640 or less per year. Earning over this amount can greatly hurt qualifying for Pell grants and subsidized loans. Do you know many people that can live on their own for less than $10,640?

A full-time working college student on their own earning enough to live will likely have a hard time qualifying for a lot of student aid. They are almost penalized for having to work.

It can take much longer to graduate when working full-time in college.

Working full-time while in college it should not come as a surprise that graduation frequently takes a longer time. Having to work full-time while attending a university might require a semester off or taking fewer credit hours. Thus, accumulating college credit for graduation ends up taking much longer. A working college student expecting to graduate in 4 or 5 years could potentially end up taking 6 or more. The result is an education taking much longer to complete and putting the higher earning potential on hold that a college education should provide. Moreover, the longer it takes a student to reach graduation the greater the possibility of getting frustrated and dropping out.

What do the actual statistics say about college students that work a full-time job while in school? 

According to a survey by Student Loan Hero, 65% of full-time college students work. Almost 25% of working college students have a job where they are putting in more than 20 hours each week. Out of the working college students, one in four stated they skipped a class at one time to go to work. In addition to finding the number of working college students, the survey went on to show the top reasons why many of these students work.

  • 52% To pay for tuition
  • 64% Needed to work to pay for living expenses
  • 55% Said they need to work to pay for spending money

A few surprising results of the Student Loan Hero survey on working college students was that only 9% surveyed said they were working because their parents require them to and 22% claimed they do it because they enjoy working.

The data for working college students also shows that 38% of college dropouts said they left due to financial problems. Working students are also seen more often in two-year schools as opposed to four-year universities. Most college students that drop out also claim they do so because they were not able to find a work-life balance.

Lower-income students are more likely to have full-time work while attending college. This statistic was not surprising with the high cost of a college education today. The problem with this is these students often must work in low-wage jobs that will not relate to their college major when they graduate. An affluent student that gets an internship not out of necessity but more as a choice and works full-time or part-time in that role within their field of study will have a better chance of success.

From the research available, most experts seem to agree that working part-time up to about 20 hours can have some very positive results. However, a college student working 40 hours or more regularly will most often start to see a decline at some point in their studies. 


Although quite a few college students do hold a job while attending school, the majority are likely only working part-time and not out of necessity.

The research on working college students appears to show that working only part-time can have its benefits. However, a student working 40 or more hours a week is likely to see a decline in keeping up with academic studies. Moreover, college students holding a full-time job while in school statistically tend to have higher rates of dropping out.

The problems associated with working full-time while in college tend to predominately affect lower-income students that must work to pay for tuition and living expenses. Because student aid can potentially be much lower for full-time working college students, they are often penalized for having to hold a job to get them through school. To me, this is a big problem with the education system today that would appear to increasingly favor affluent families.

Lower-income college students are almost always already at a disadvantage financially. When a student that does not come from money must work full time through school, they will also statistically have a much more challenging time getting to graduation.

Because many college students appear to only be working part-time and not frequently out of necessity, it is clear the higher education system is increasingly favoring higher-income college students. Thus, middle-income and lower-income families are likely going to have a difficult time getting through college as the price of attending does not appear to be slowing down anytime soon.


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