Should children work in high school or college?
March 5, 2007 7:17 AM   Subscribe

Does having a job during high school and college affect the quality of education obtained?

My wife and I both had jobs during high school and college. We also both did quite well in high school and college. Our thought had always been that encouraging our children to have a job in high school and college would teach them responsibility and prepare them better for employment later.

To encourage our first daughter to get a job we quit paying allowance at 15 and did not pay for entertainment or the gas used in her car (we do pay for clothing, insurance, etc). Our plan was to do something similar in college so that she would work around 15 hours a week.

We now have a number of other kids nearing high school age and I'm second guessing the path we chose. I notice that our daughter seems very stressed with all the activities, school work, and sports she participates in. Her grades have been ok but not stellar. Because of the stress she is wanting to give up a sport next year and take some easier classes (her senior year). I'm not certain that if she didn't have a job her grades would be better or she'd feel less stress but I wonder if it isn't the case.

I like the idea of our kids having a job and the responsibility it teaches but I'm really wondering if it wouldn't be better if we let our kids just totally focus on school and not need to have a job. I do encourage them to work more in the summer but we tend to take long family vacations at this time which does hinder their job opportunities.

I'd be interested in anybodies thoughts on whether a job in high school and college hinders the quality of education received. Anecdotal stories are great but if anybody has some links to some studies on this that would be greatly appreciated.
posted by tr45vbyt to Education (64 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
For me, working in high school and college forced me to learn how to organize myself. I participated in a lot of clubs but not any sports and it worked okay for me.
posted by k8t at 7:27 AM on March 5, 2007

As a student at a small liberal arts school as an undergrad, my answer is a definitive "maybe."

I know many people that have jobs on campus that are essentially a matter of getting paid to do homework - jobs like desk attendants, tutors, etc. tend to involve a whole lot of waiting for 7 or 8 dollars per hour. Jobs such as that may not be the most fulfilling, but many people actually report that it's improved their academics by "forcing" them to do their homework in their on-the-job downtime where otherwise they may just have skipped it entirely.

Working off campus seems to be another story - lots of friends who work off campus have definitely run into trouble with bosses that just don't understand that have no pity for midterms, papers, events, etc. Those students do seem to suffer academically at times because they have to work. The key, thus, seems to be finding the right job during the school year.

I'd say the lack of summer work opportunities could definitely be contributing to the problem, too. Personally, I work a mediocre job all summer, but it pays decently enough that I pretty much cover all of my non-food and shelter related expenses over the summer and manage with some minor chipping in from the parents through most of first semester. If I manage to get one of those nice cushy on-campus jobs, I could probably cover all of my day-to-day expenses all year and only have to beg for money when the car breaks down, etc. Missing out on working over the summer would definitely be a huge blow to my financial situation (such as it is...) and might push me to need one of those less considerate off-campus jobs that can definitely get in the way of academics. So there you have it from a current student's perspective.
posted by Rallon at 7:34 AM on March 5, 2007

It's anecdotal of course, but working throughout high school and college helped me with my biggest problem: Procrastination.

It's hard to get motivated to do something when you have tons and tons of free time. When you feel the crunch, you work harder.

I think there's tradeoffs though. I was surely under more stress than a lot of my peers, and probably missed out on a certain amount of social activity as a result. That situation remedied itself later in my college career at the expense of academic performance (though in hindsight I wouldn't have changed anything - the social growth was worth it. I still got a very respectable degree from a top tier university for my particular field).
posted by twiggy at 7:34 AM on March 5, 2007

15 hours work + 15-20 hours class = 30-35 hours per week. This is not a crazy workload, even if you add say 10 hours per week for doing homework and projects. I don't see why school would suffer at this level, assuming she isn't working the night shift or something. I know that I never had a problem with it.

It sounds more like the sports and "activities" are making her crazy. It's up to you and her which of the three is most important: school, work, sports + "activities"[1].

[1] Scare quotes used because "activities" can be legit, such as plays for Drama class or non-legit like playing pool and watching TV. Mine were mainly the latter.
posted by DU at 7:38 AM on March 5, 2007

Fact: At my university, the students who maintained part-time, university-funded employment maintained a GPA some .7 points higher than the campus-wide average. (This was in 2000-2001)

Personal anecdote: Maintaining a job while in school (college at least) promotes responsibility and encourages time managemetn skills to develop. I often worked far too much, but I value those jobs greatly (and they enabled me to step into a great job immediately after graduation).
posted by jmgorman at 7:39 AM on March 5, 2007

Rallon: I worked off campus but my boss was very flexible on hours and for midterms and such. I think the key must be this: I looked at the campus job board to find the job. That means they were specifically looking for a college student, and I never gave them any reason to think I'd be either 9-5 or long-term. It probably wouldn't be a good idea to go out in "civvies" and get a job and THEN try to ask for time off to write that big paper.
posted by DU at 7:41 AM on March 5, 2007

I think a good trade-off is working summers, gainfully or in an apprentice capacity. If you can afford to float those expenses for your kids, I think it's a net good -- there's *so much* going on extracurricularly (both formally and informally) in high school and college that to miss out on something, even something silly, because you have to punch a timecard someplace is a shame. I don't know what your kids will be when they grow up, but I would hope that they would thrive without using their college years to get accustomed to wall-to-wall stress.
posted by blueshammer at 7:42 AM on March 5, 2007

I agree with Twiggy's point about having a job during school helping with procrastination. I know that I personally had jobs all throughout high school, and was involved in several different clubs and activities, and did well because I had so much on my plate. I maintained good grades and blah blah blah.
Then I went to college and my parents wanted me to focus on studies, so I wasn't "allowed" to get a job. I went crazy with all the downtime I had, and screwed my grades up royally. I begged to be able to get a part time job. After a few misses I wound up waiting tables and delivering pizzas, and not only did it help me regulate my life and schedule, I made some of my best friends while working there. We were all in the same boat and all had stuff to do outside of work, but we somehow all made it work. So far we've all made it out alive into the real world so I think it worked for us!
I think night/desk jobs are great for college students too - doing night check-ins at the front doors of the dorms, for example.
I'd say that the job probably isn't what's stressing your daughter totally out (what DU said) - but it really is an individual thing. Talk to her about it - I think each of your kids will have different feelings on this.
Best of luck to her (and you)!
posted by slyboots421 at 7:44 AM on March 5, 2007

What's the college experience going to be like? Teaching your children that money doesn't fall from trees is a laudable thing to do. Whether it will cause grades to suffer depends on a lot of variables though.

At some colleges, students take 12 hours of classes a week and homework takes another 5 hours in total.
At some colleges, students take 20 hours of classes a week, and homework takes another 60 hours a week.

Might even be the same college, just different programs. Sure, if you're only working 17 hours a week, holding down a job is no problem at all. If you're already working 80 hours per week, holding down a job in addition is a recipe for disaster.
posted by jellicle at 7:50 AM on March 5, 2007

You say your oldest daughter works during college but also that she plays sports. (In fact, you say she's thinking of giving up "a" sport which leads me to believe there is more than one she is playing at a college level.) If this is true and she's playing one or more sports at a college level, it can get to be a little much to work a job, play perhaps multiple college-level sports, and get an education. I have plenty of students who work and plenty who play college sports but I would think doing both would definitely cause one's academic performance to suffer.
posted by ontic at 7:55 AM on March 5, 2007

15 hours work + 15-20 hours class = 30-35 hours per week. This is not a crazy workload, even if you add say 10 hours per week for doing homework and projects.

That won't work well for college. If you want to do really well in anything remotely demanding, you should expect to spend 30--50 hours per week on direct coursework.

I don't have kids. My sense is that you can teach them responsibility just as well by giving them a substantial allowance and forcing them to do their own prioritization with it. No extra money for clothes, no advances; you provide some minimal set of bare necessities and an allowance, and the kid does All Else with the allowance.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:00 AM on March 5, 2007

I took a full course load (18 hours) and worked 30-35 hours a week in an office job as an IT manager. It was difficult at first, before I realized I could not do all the fun college things and still maintain sanity (that is those cheap draws and weird middle of the week parties). Also when you work that much and have a demanding job sometimes a really good cathartic is going out shopping and spending some of that money you earned (plus I had to dress nice and yuppie like everyone else at the office).

The point being is that I still had college friends, but mostly had older friends who were more able to meet my schedule. I think I skipped the whole college thing and became a yuppie at a younger age than my peers.
posted by geoff. at 8:01 AM on March 5, 2007

Based on my own experience and those of some friends, I think working during college can be much worse than working during high school.

I worked during high school, at least for the first couple of years, because I was so intensely bored with my classes (even nerd-oriented advanced classes). I don't think my education was adversely affected, though I did quit working for the last year and focused on extracurriculars. I don't know if this made me a more appealing college applicant or not.

I only did work-study jobs in college, which are basically a joke as far as hours are concerned... it's pretty much impossible to get stressed out by a work-study job, that's the way they're designed. Also, the money sucks, so it's kind of a trade off. But I had several friends who worked through college, enough hours to pay their rent, and I think it had a definite bad impact for some of them. For instance, one person wanted to get into editing or publishing, and she was not able to do an internship because she was working so much to put herself through school. With no experience and no industry connections after graduation, she could not find a job in her field.

So, consider whether you kids would be getting themselves into a similar situation by doing a make-work job during college. Being vaguely "prepared for employment" is nice, but making concrete industry connections is way more important for some fields and should definitely take priority.
posted by rkent at 8:02 AM on March 5, 2007

Without sounding arrogant I should add that school always came easy and I don't think my schoolwork suffered very much. I always read the material the night beforehand and whipped up a paper during the weekend, and graduated toward the top of my class. I've been told that getting a perfect 4.0 looks sort of weird on a transcript, so a few B's in subjects not related to my major were not a big deal.

As an overachiever I did learn that you don't have to be perfect at something all the time, but to do the best you can.
posted by geoff. at 8:04 AM on March 5, 2007

Is your daughter in high school or in college? I got the impression she was in high school though other posters thought she was in college.

If your daughter is a senior in high school, she may be holding down a ton of sports and activities because she's been told she needs to do this to get into a good college. This is especially true if she excels at the sport or if she's a leader in the activities. When I was in high school, most ambitious kids spent far more time on extracurriculars than my parents' generation did. This would make it hard to hold down a job, especially if the job's hours cut into sleep time.

Find out a little more about what she needs to do to get into the college of her choice, and then decide if you think the job is reasonable on top classes and activities in her pivotal senior year.
posted by rhiannon at 8:06 AM on March 5, 2007

In high school, I worked during the summer after junior year (I had volunteer-y positions during previous summers), and attempted to carry that job into the school year. It just sucked. I definitely felt like I was missing out on so much. For me, high school was mostly about being with my friends and learning those social interactions, and having a job just made me miserable. (I was also an honors student with a 4.0+ GPA, so I wasn't ignoring academics. I could have continued to do fine in classes and extracurriculars (of which I always had a lot) with the job, but it was just that it was making me so socially miserable that I was losing motivation.)

In college, I took out loans that included work-study jobs, and I always had at least one job throughout college. Mostly those cushy on-campus office support jobs (15-25 hours a week) mentioned above, which did give me time to either do homework or at least daydream about paper topics, and all of which made me organize my time and life better. I continued to do a lot of extracurriculars, and I continued to do very well in all my classes.

I was always a bit suspicious of people in college who didn't have jobs; by that point, it seems like you need to start learning time and money management. And then I eventually got a university-affiliated job with a student-run organization that turned into one of my main social outlets, too.

So if it were me, I'd say no jobs in high school unless they actually want them, at least during the academic year. Partly I guess because you're so much less in charge of your life & schedule in high school; it's not like you can plan job hours around class hours in quite the same you can in college. But I don't think requiring a job during college is unreasonable.
posted by occhiblu at 8:08 AM on March 5, 2007

I worked in high school and college. In high school, during the school year I was only allowed to work on Sundays so that work didn't interfere with schoolwork and activities. I wanted the job more than my parents wanted me to have one, so that was the compromise. During the summers I could work as much as I wanted. Throughout college I had a few different part time jobs and always felt stressed. It was a good stress, a sort of "productive" stress and I liked working. I'm sure it got overwhelming at the time, but in retrospect I don't remember that. Perhaps my social life was impacted somewhat, but I never noticed. I don't think my grades were affected, since my grades went up throughout college, even while working more hours and participating in other activities. I also worked full time while attending graduate school. Working while in school forces you to use your time more wisely. But it does leave less time for fun and other activities such as sports. One caveat: I only worked places where I wanted to work, i.e. my favorite clothing stores, a cool internship that had good perks, etc. If I had worked somewhere that I didn't already care about in some way, I probably wouldn't have fared as well.

It's probably good practice to have her work a few hours a week, because chances are she'll have an internship in college and will end up juggling everything at some point anyway. Maybe the 15 hours is too much at this point though? Have you asked her what she thinks? As a sidenote, most college work-study positions as referenced above will be about 10 hours (usually negotiable) and folks will usually be flexible since they understand that you're in school. If you don't think she'll qualify for federal work-study, she may have a hard time getting a cushy "desk job" where she gets to study all the time. Then she might end up in a real job where she has to actually work and work more hours and the managers aren't as flexible.
posted by ml98tu at 8:12 AM on March 5, 2007

Response by poster: Just to clarify, our oldest daughter is in high school right now. She will be a senior next year.
posted by tr45vbyt at 8:12 AM on March 5, 2007

In high school, I worked summers, which paid for my entertainment and such during the school year (no car, so I didn't have to pay for any of that). It taught me the value of money, I contributed to things like a school-sponsored trip to Mexico, and I bought my own movie tickets/dinners/etc.

In college, I worked 15 hours a week -- that was the college limit for on-campus jobs. I think what's different about college is that weekends are also fair game. At my school, class+homework was supposed to take 52 hours/week. Add on top of that committees, volunteer work, clubs, social life, etc, and I had a busy week... but having clubs meet on weekends, for example, redistributed the time. I assume that's not the case in high school -- I know my high school didn't have many weekend activities outside of sports -- so it's harder to redistribute, which is probably why your daughter feels so stressed.

I think your goals with your children are really admirable, but when you and your wife worked through high school, did you have to build the kind of activity resumes students now do if they want to be competitive for college? Whether or not this social phenomenon is a good thing is an entirely different discussion, but your daughter is obviously interested in these things and thinks they're important. Some concept of time management is important to teach her, but let her be a high school student, let her prepare herself for college, and I don't see any reason her summer jobs can't fulfill the same kinds of goals her year-round job would. It might be slightly less money, but it might be worth it for the enjoyment, improved grades, and better college preparation she can get out of it.
posted by olinerd at 8:16 AM on March 5, 2007

I think it's fine for high school students to work on weekends and the summer, but I don't understand how anyone works after school and keeps up with their school, work, extracurricular and sleep schedule. Maybe I just studied especially hard in high school, and I was definitely unusually serious about extracurriculars. But I'm glad that I didn't have to forgo the chance to edit the high school newspaper so that my parents could teach me some sort of lesson about the joys of slinging french fries. It's one thing if you have to, but I don't think it's a good idea just to learn about responsibility.

On the other hand, I feel pretty strongly that everyone should work in college. It encourages better time-management, and in college you spend a lot less time actually in class. I also think that you tend to take it more seriously if you're contributing to paying for your own education.
posted by craichead at 8:22 AM on March 5, 2007

...If you want to do really well in anything remotely demanding, you should expect to spend 30--50 hours per week on direct coursework.

Define "really well" (and "remotely demanding"). I'm working as a programmer in an environment that makes demands not only on my programming ability, but also physics and mathematics. I make enough to support my family well. There is absolutely no way I spent even 30 hours per week on homework. In fact, I doubt I even spent as much as 10 (2 hours per night, 5 nights a week), but maybe time has faded my memory.
posted by DU at 8:33 AM on March 5, 2007

DU has done an equation and mentioned '10 hours per week for doing homework and projects'.

I'm a Graduate Student who works 20 hours per week, and my work schedule is crazy. 9 Credit hours + 20 work Hours = 29 Hours.
An assignment takes around 20 hours, so for two assignments it will be 40 hours. Other than the assignments we also need to study and stay up to date with the course work.

My suggestion is pay your child's tuition fee, insurance, rent and let them work for 5 - 6 hours per week(to earn their small expenses like entertainment, gas). I can say if he/she is a responsible person they will use the free time to improve their grades.
posted by WizKid at 8:43 AM on March 5, 2007

If you're worried about time management skills, they can also be learned from having to juggle school, sports, and other extra-curricular activities that perhaps are also geared towards what she wants to study in college (if she doesn't know, she probably has a few guesses).

I think it's important to work McJobs to get a feel for how incredibly tedious and mundane jobs can be. I can't stand the kids at my school who've never worked a min. wage job thanks to their rich parents.

But if she's already got that experience, and if it's financially feasible for your family, she should try doing stuff that's more geared towards her future degree and career... Stuff she's interested in. Paying or not.

She could work during the summers and save the money, which will help her learn how to budget her saved cash, and you could also provide a limited allowance if she doesn't have enough.
posted by Menomena at 8:47 AM on March 5, 2007

Jellicle makes a very good point above which I think bears repeating: college can be a very different experience as far as workload depending on the school and program. Having been both an arts student and a hard science student, both while running a small business to support myself, I can say that finding time to work and study is much more difficult in the later situation. I wouldn't wish a job on any science (or engineering, etc.) student that didn't let him/her study at the same time, because being a science student can be much more than a full time job on its own; for most arts students, it shouldn't be at all difficult to find the time.
posted by ssg at 8:49 AM on March 5, 2007

Btw, another reason I suggest extra-curricular activities that are geared towards her future degree/career is because she may end up getting a PT job out of it while in college, thanks to her volunteer experience.
This is coming from personal experience. I wrote at my student newspaper for 2 years and now I get paid as an editor, which will look great on my resume when I graduate.
posted by Menomena at 9:01 AM on March 5, 2007

...all the activities, school work, and sports she participates in.

While I generally think jobs are good and can mix well with education (but not always), if your daughter is particpating in a lot of extracurricular activities add a job on top of everything else may be too much. You know your children better than everyone else, though, so trust your instincts. You sound like a concerned and thoughtful parent, so you will in all likelihood make the right call.
posted by TedW at 9:02 AM on March 5, 2007

My wife is a high school teacher. One of her biggest problems is the students who don't do home work and fall asleep at their desks day after day because they had a closing shift at a fast food restaurant all week.

A few hours a week should be fine, but it sounds like your daughter is doing too much. Maybe you could pick up a few of her bills if she promises to cut back her work hours?
posted by LarryC at 9:09 AM on March 5, 2007

I worked full-time during the summers while I was in high school but not during the school year. My grades were quite good, but my only extracurricular activity at school was volleyball. I also worked full-time during the summers and on the weekends while I was in college, and that did make things rather stressful for me, especially in my junior and senior years. I had a pretty demanding course load (16-18 credit hours per semester) and had an eye toward graduate school, so I felt a lot of pressure to do well. I hated my job (fast food), and that created its own stress. I'm now finishing my master's and have worked part of the time as a teaching or research assistant and during the last summer I had an off-campus job.

All in all, I've had some pretty varied experience with working while trying to get an education. I'd say it largely depends on your daughter's willingness to work, her dedication to her education, and her priorities in general. You said she's thinking about giving up a sport and taking easier classes next year, and I think that's a warning sign. It seems like she's trying to handle too much right now, and you should sit down with her to figure out what's most important to her and how you can help her deal with the situation.
posted by Trinkers at 9:12 AM on March 5, 2007

I can't imagine having a job in high school, but I had a 75-minute commute each way to my school, so I don't think I'm an average case.

Now, as a college student, I'm double majoring in two hard sciences. I've found that I'm just plain unable to work most quarters; there have been four quarters out of thirteen total when I've had a job and I've always regretted taking it. It's not a question of time management; it's just that my jobs tend to involve staring at a screen and so do my studies and it just comes to a point where my eyes don't focus anymore. I should also mention that I've definitely had classes that took 40 hours a week. That's a single class. They're the exception, but they happen, and many people I knew who took such classes while working (some of them full time) planned on taking them, doing about half the work, withdrawing at the latest possible minute, and taking them again the next quarter - thus spreading the workload over two quarters.

You should make it clear to your daughter that if she can't handle her workload, the job should be the first thing to go.
posted by crinklebat at 9:15 AM on March 5, 2007

I dropped out of college because of this. My mother was determined that getting a degree was the most important thing I could do. My father, never having gone to college, thought securing a job was the most important thing, and refused to pay for anything. To satisfy them both, I was in school full time and working 25 hours a week (and living at home). In my free time I was so tired that working on school stuff was really difficult. Eventually I got lazy and depressed and was constantly arguing with my parents. Because in order to give school the attention it required, I simply could not work as many hours. Yet they saw my inability to support myself as a sign of personal failure. Eventually I moved out to get away from the noise, and cut my school hours over time until finally I just admitted that it just. wasn't. happening.

To this day I am determined to eventually go back and finish my degree, but because of my past I flatly refuse to do so unless I'm in a position where I won't have to work more than a handful of hours a week, so that school effecively IS my job. Maybe that won't happen for years, maybe not ever. But I basically believe that in working AND going to school, I personally run the risk of compromising the effects of both experiences.

Having a policy to guide you is a great start, but is it really fair to expect all your children to function at the same level, when they are each different and face different circumstances? If she's struggling, then she is doing so just as much because of the limitations placed on her as much as in spite of their benefits. No two people are the same, which is why the advice you'll get from everyone here is bound to be just as varied as the experiences that all your children wind up actually having. The best thing you can do is have some pretty honest talks with your daughter and then determine what it will take to keep her inspired and sane during the next few years.
posted by hermitosis at 9:16 AM on March 5, 2007

I attended a rather intense college, someone who only spent 10 hours a week studying outside of class/lab probably wasn't trying and definitely wasn't getting their moneys worth. 30-60 hours a week in addition to classes & labs was probably more the norm. Even my freshman year at state school probably involved ~20/hours a week.

I did work 8-10 hours a week, but it was a casual campus job where I could do my laundry and read magazines (too many interruptions to get much homework done.

I'm all for working in high school and college, but I think ~10 hours a week is probably a good target for both.
posted by Good Brain at 9:22 AM on March 5, 2007

Please don't set up your child's life based on other people's experiences. My parents were always setting rules for me based on how they grew up, their high school experiences, their friends' children's rules, what they read in magazines, what they read in parenting books, etc. I always found this a little insulting -- I was very different from my parents and from the children of all their friends, and frankly, their ideas really didn't fit me at all.

A person who is older than infancy has a very distinct personality, distinct needs, ambitions, and circumstances -- this kind of decision can only be made by you _and_ your child working it out together.

How ambitious and focused is she on her academics or her sports? Maybe that will drive her. If she can focus on what she _wants_ to focus on, there's a much better chance she will excel.

If, on the other hand, she doesn't yet have anything that really moves her to work, then a variety of experience can be good.
posted by amtho at 9:22 AM on March 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

As a non-traditional student who just received his BA in December, I say it depends. When I was in school for my AA at a community college, I worked straight through, no problem. Weekends, often a few hours during the week. I was doing maybe a few hours of homework a night, if that.

Then I came back to school for the BA (at a NY state U) and I took nothing but Literature and writing classes, and though I was only doing 12-14 credits a semester, my workload was ridiculous. A shocking amount of reading and writing. I held/ still hold a job and I work 15-20 hours a week, but I get paid fairly well (easily twice the standard for what one would get for retail or a "McJob") and my employer is very understanding.

During the summers, I have generally worked more-or-less full time, and that covers rent and food. (Loans cover the bulk of the semester).

Now, I'm a grad student, and I get up in the morning, read, go to work for a few hours (four days a week), come home, read, hopefully eat something, read, go to class, read, come home at 9:00pm, read till 3:00am, go to sleep for a few hours and then do it again. Weekends? I get up, eat and read. All day. All night. Social life? Zero. (of course, I make time for MeFi) I expect it will get even better next semester when I'm a TA. (I'll probably have to cut work down to a day a weekend here and there)

I think for a freshman, an on-campus job is great--as others have said before, it's pretty much a set-up for studying. My friend used to go the the work-study job fairs, and just walk from table to table, saying "I really don't want to do any work... is this job like that?" He found a slack job every time.

Once the student narrows their major down, they can tweak it as necessary... waiting tables is pretty decent money for the time investment, so one could do something like that on the weekend for a few hours, or working in a bookstore, cafe, etc.
posted by exlotuseater at 9:23 AM on March 5, 2007

My first two years of college, I slacked through 12 credits and ~12 hours working (always had a full-time lawnmowing job in the summer to pay most of my way). My GPA was 2.6. THe last two years, I pulled in the slack and took 20-22 credits (enginneering, incl. labs that rate 1 cr but take 3 cr worth of work, and design/machine/install race car classes), and worked 20 hours on the weekend. I slept maybe five hours a night, except Fridays, when I slept 12. Those four semesters, I had a 3.5-3.8 GPA. I didn't have time to get lazy, so I just kept moving, working, studying. I think it was good for me, but now, ten years later, I have trouble getting motivated except when I'm in absolutely brutal situations.
posted by notsnot at 9:53 AM on March 5, 2007

In general, both my secondary school institutions and my government (in the form of requirements for government scholarships) insist that 10 hours a week is the maximum that a serious student should be working. I believe there were some studies to back this up. (Although this abstract suggests the studies have been inconclusive)

In my personal experience, an on-campus job is fine (these usually stick to the minimum hours) a co-op program in which terms alternate work and school is fine, but any attempt to work for subsistence amounts of money and high academic achievement are contradictory. There are of course, people who are exceptions. But if your daughter isn't an exception, it doesn't mean that letting her off the hook for working during school will turn her into a lazy, non-working bum (sorry, a little personal bitterness escaping here).

I've done a lot of thinking about how to encourage and motivate children in such a way that they are willing and able to withstand the downsides of work and take the risks they need to in order to achieve what they want. My conclusion, after looking at my mother's parenting choices as well as my friends' experiences, is that if you teach your child that their efforts are valuable then they will learn to make an effort.

Making an effort is the basic skill that leads to achievement at both work and school (and in life generally). Valuing a child's efforts, encouraging them, and promoting follow-through will help your child understand the process involved in achievement: goals, work, payoff etc. When a child is cognizant of the different stages of the process of achievement, including the boredom and set-backs that can occur along the way, as well as having confidence that she is able to achieve (because you have valued and encouraged her various efforts and achievements in a range of activities), then that child is well-prepared for an adulthood of work.

Every situation is different, but work is not the only way to create a work-ethic. Confidence in one's own abilities and understanding the process of achievement create, in my observation, adults who achieve and sustain personal success quickly. If giving up a sport and keeping a great job does that for your daughter, then that's great. But if she's working hard for low wages and undervalued work experience (i.e. fast food or retail) verses working hard for high grades, that's not necessarily going to create a strong work-ethic, or the sense of responsibility that you are looking for.
posted by carmen at 10:03 AM on March 5, 2007 [2 favorites]

Sounds like a great chance for her to learn some better time-management skills. Get her to do the old practice of logging her time for a week -- including the time that she spends goofing off. (And make it clear to her that some amount of goofing off is not only good, but necessary for her to maintain good mental health. You're just trying to help her ORGANIZE her time more effectively, not eliminate anything fun.) In the end, it's her decision -- she's an adult and/or almost one, and you shouldn't stand in her way if she really wants to drop a sport.

Time management and not knowing how to handle extracirriculars, work, and studies were what killed the start of my college career. Living at home and starting over again allowed me to organize my life a lot better, and later in life now I'm better off for it.

I worked all the way through high school to my senior year of college. I got WAY better grades when I was busier (ex: I got my only 4.0 for a semester EVER when I was working a 30 hour/week internship, was the business manager of the school paper, and was taking 16 credit-hours.) My Senior Year I was unemployed but spent the time I would've spent at work job hunting.

It's also easier for me to save money and keep other good life habits (like a good diet) going when I'm busier.
posted by SpecialK at 10:09 AM on March 5, 2007

It's my impression that kids today, especially kids who are trying to get tracked to good colleges, are way more heavily scheduled with school organizations, sports, and activities than I ever was when I was in high school 20 years ago. Schools have just come up with alot more for kids to do after school in an intensely regimented manner -- community service organizations, interest groups, meetings with teachers or students for classes that occur after all the bells -- add all this to the usual theatre, arts, literature, and sports clubs that schools always had and it makes me feel like we are turning our kids into little robots that shuffle from one event to another without any time where they can just think about all those deep questions that normally accompany adolescence: who they are, what they want to be and do, and whether their crush likes them in that way.

So even if there are people above saying that they worked worked worked all through high school and college (as I did) and it was good for them, consider whether your daughter's current situation is the same as some of the older folks here. On the other hand, maybe having a job really does teach something more useful than some of the activities she is doing at school. So I don't really have an answer, but I think this is a great question, and I hope you and your daughter can work something out by talking about it.
posted by onlyconnect at 10:11 AM on March 5, 2007

i think kids should absolutely have a job in high school and a campus-type job in college.

in high school it teaches them responsibility and gets them out in the 'real world'.

yes, it does cut down on time that they can participate in extracurriculars, but unless you're counting on a sports scholarship, the benefits of a job far outweigh the benefits of a sport.

having a job will hopefully teach kids how to better balance their time between work and school and fun.

all states have laws which limit the number of hours that kids under 18 can work. it was 20 hours a week when i was in high school where i lived. 20 hours is NOTHING. i worked 20 hours a week every week and was still a stellar student in high school (i also had marching band practice 3 hours a night 4 nights a week).

in college a job is almost mandatory, unless you'll be paying for everything for your kids (including nights out at the bar, etc). there are college jobs where you get paid to sit and study, as mentioned up thread and there are college jobs where you have to do stuff. there's also opportunities where you get paid AND you get credit. i got a 500$ stipend a semester to edit the college newspaper, plus i got course credit towards graduation.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 10:12 AM on March 5, 2007

I was a lifeguard in high school. During the school year, my job consisted solely of teaching swimming lessons. It was a leadership thing (good for the resume), an extra-curricular fitness activity, and a paying job. If your kid is into sports, can she stop playing on a team and start refereeing and/or coaching kids for pay? It's a great way to pad the resume for college and get paid.

I second the idea that 10 hours a week is the most a person should work while in school. When I was working 15-20 hours a week, I started dropping classes. Encourage her to apply to a co-op program with paid internships. I paid my own room and board throughout university from the money made on my work terms, supplemented with the money made working 10 hours/week in an on-campus job.
posted by crazycanuck at 10:13 AM on March 5, 2007

I worked at a McDonald's from my Sophomore year in High School to the beginning of my freshman year in college. I think it left me really tired during High School, and contributed to the decline in my previously stellar grades.

(On weekends I would work at 5am on Saturdays and 6 am on Sundays)

On the plus side, I learned a little bit about interpersonal relations.
posted by drezdn at 10:15 AM on March 5, 2007

As Rallon says, the answer is a definitive "maybe." What works for one kid may not work for another, depending on how they study, where they work, what their goals are, etc. If I were you, I'd consider the academic expectations that you and your children have for high school and college. When having a job starts to negatively affect their chances of achieving those goals, you should consider allowing them to work less, etc. To that end, a few suggestions:

If your daughter (or any of your children) are considering applying to top colleges, activities are a big part of that process these days. The kind of kids who aim at top schools tend to be involved in a great many activities, and tend to be leaders/etc. in at least some of them. There's a lot more emphasis on this than there probably was during your own time in high school, since so many kids apply to college these days and they all have to distinguish themselves from the thousands of other applicants... So I'd urge you to consider the fact that sports and other extracurriculars do affect the college application process (though naturally not as much as classes.) Having a job will certainly indicate responsibility on your kids' part, but it may not stand out as much as being the head of their school's award-winning Science Olympiad team (or whatever).

Similarly, class choice is very important for college apps. Colleges want to see that students have been trying to challenge themselves (within the limits of their high school's program, at least.) As a result, choosing easier over harder classes because of general stress and busy-ness might not be a great idea: if it comes down to academics versus a job, the former

Finally, the college app process can be enormously stressful and time-consuming in and of itself: college visits, college essays, SATs, ACTs, preparing for the tests, etc... It's like having another class on top of everything else. In my case, I didn't work until my senior year in high school, when I had something like an internship at a nearby lab. The addition of that to my coursework (5 or 6 AP classes), activities, and college apps nearly did me in.

During college, many students have jobs of the types described by other posters. That's generally a good idea, I think, but again, only if it doesn't interfere with academics. In my university, for example, there was a lot of financial support for students who wanted to do internships or to spend time working in labs, for professors, etc. In many fields, this sort of hands-on experience can play a big role in grad school apps or in finding a job. However, many universities have only limited funding for this kind of stuff. If your kids can't do an unpaid internship/lab job/etc. because they need that time to work a paying job, well, that's not a good position to be in. Similarly, if having a job means that they can't double major, take challenging classes, or have something of a life outside of work and school, well, that's not great either. The switch to college can also be a challenge for some kids: being forced to work a lot during their first term/year while they're still adjusting to college can make things even more difficult.

In my case, between parents, scholarships, and loans, housing and tuition were paid for. I worked jobs to deal with food, medicine, clothing, and random small luxuries (and tried to save when I could.) However, making enough money to deal with the basics was not a problem. I knew I could cut back working hours when I needed to in order to deal with heavy courseloads and such, without fear of being unable to pay rent or eat. An arrangement like this seems like it's probably the best for most college students.

If your daughter (or, later, your other kids) have already demonstrated responsibility, willingness to try to balance work, school, and activities, etc., it's really worth cutting them some slack when necessary. Teaching time-management skills and fiscal responsibility is great, but a job's not the only way to teach the former, and if your kids have already demonstrated the latter, continuing to hold a job isn't worth risking their chances for academic success. Talk with your kids and be willing to adjust your rules and expectations depending on their situation.
posted by ubersturm at 10:20 AM on March 5, 2007

I think you have to take into account the academic programs your child is in. For example, during high school, I worked at my local animal hospital helping to feed & walk the dogs in the kennel and helping the vets during appointments. My sophomore & junior years of high school this was fine, as I had a regular workload (mostly honors courses).

However, my senior year I had 5 AP classes to contend with. The homework load for these courses was much MUCH greater than for regular high school courses. I was getting very bent out of shape before I decided to limit my work time to weekend hours only. Otherwise if I worked after school and got home at 7pm, I'd be up until 2 or 3 am working on things, and then waking up at 6 am to go back to school.

In college I think at least for the first year or so, work is best limited to on-campus jobs for a minimal number of hours per week, like the work study jobs I've had (lab monitor, card-swiper, etc). I only say this because for many kids, college is a big adjustment and it's easy to flunk courses freshman year while you get your bearings. I did work every summer as a temp though, which gave me enough savings to buffer myself for the school year. This taught me to budget and save.

I do wish instead of pushing me to work, though, my parents had pushed me to take an internship instead. My parents always focused on earning money, but the kids who landed the best jobs right out of school were the ones who spent their summers as interns in their field.

I would more push your kids to get experiences relevant to learning about what they want to do rather than earning money. Give them a strict allowance and make them learn to deal with bank accounts & a secured credit card, but let them do volunteer work or intern work in something that might help them down the line.
posted by tastybrains at 10:23 AM on March 5, 2007

If she took all the time she spent working and spent it on additional studying, she'd do better in school. The question is, if she had no job, would she spend significantly more time studying or more time sleeping/watching TV/out with friends.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 10:40 AM on March 5, 2007

I was a very high achieving student in very demanding programs in both high school and college and my mom was of the opinion that my grades were my primary responsibility. In high school I was in class 30 hours a week, routinely had another 20 (or more) hours a week in our drama program, and at least another 20 hours of homework and reading. The parental unit figured I was busy enough. My brother, however, was a looser, more fun having, less studying sort and he worked the whole time he was in high school (and was basically happy to do it. He bought a truck, took spring break trips to Florida, all the stuff I never had the time or money to do).

In college if my GPA dropped below a 3.2 I would have been kicked out of the honors program and lost my scholarship. At my school, your workload varied wildly depending on what you studied. It was really up to you how much work you had to do. With a major, a minor, honors program work, studying, paper writing, reading hundreds of pages a week, and editing an on campus literary magazine I was very, very busy. Although I knew a lot of students with jobs, in my case it would have been very difficult to find the time for one. I worked basically full time during the summer. Also, my schedule was so odd in college (some days I was done for the day at 3, some days at midnight) it would have been hard to find an employer who could work with that. On campus jobs (while not, perhaps, huge on the actual responsibility) seemed like the best choice even if they were a little hard to come by at my school since many were taken by students who had to have them as a part of their financial aid package.

So, basically, I'd come down on the side of "every student is different." Every program will demand more of you. If she's working, doing sports and activities, and in school, I don't think you need to worry about her not having enough responsibility. It seems like your gut is saying maybe it's all a bit much; I'd listen to that. Leadership positions in school organizations are more useful for getting into college than a McJob, in my experience. Maybe let her give something (the job if she chooses) up on the understanding that her grades should go up as a result. If they don't, reevaluate. Also, remember, high school and college are supposed to be fun. If she's got so much stress in her life that she can't enjoy it, that sounds like a problem. Balance is important in all things.
posted by mostlymartha at 10:44 AM on March 5, 2007

Nthing the suggestion to take into account the demands associated with the program of study your daughters eventually pursue. I'm a biology student at a mid-tier state school, and as of my junior year forty plus hours of outside-the-classroom time invested in homework, writing and studying is pretty much par for the course. If they're looking at the sciences, becoming involved in a summer undergraduate research project is far, far more valuable than the "life experience" a job at a restaurant or grocery store offers, and I'm sure there are equivalent opportunities in other disciplines.
posted by pullayup at 10:44 AM on March 5, 2007

Response by poster: Wow, great comments I really appreciate the input. I do think the comment about having her log her time would be a good idea - just for her own personal information. I notice that she spends many hours each week chatting with her friends online/organizing music/etc. - sometimes staying up until early morning hours. I think this contributes greatly to her tiredness and hence stress levels. Obviously to me, this time seems quite wasted but for her it's a diversion/entertainment and part of socializing and forming bonds with other kids.
posted by tr45vbyt at 10:45 AM on March 5, 2007

You do not give any specifics on your daughter's activities, but during high school some of these activities are just like (enjoyable?) jobs. If she is in an after-school arts program, like marching band, orchestra, drama club, or something more random like odyssey of the mind, then this can be just as much work as job. Same thing goes for sports where you have to travel a lot and the games are high-pressure. Meaning, she could already be holding down two or more part-time jobs. So, she has had the learning experience of at least one job for at least one year, why not let her choose how to spend her time this year? That's a different kind of responsibility. One thing to ask her is, if you could give her ten more hours a week, what would she do with it? Whatever her answer is, help her reorganize to get that. And, you have to leave space in the reorganization for "quit my job." Or, it may turn out that she wants to relax this year and not play a sport and not study hard and have fun at her McJob making money. Maybe some total hotties work there...
posted by Eringatang at 10:46 AM on March 5, 2007

A couple people have implied it, but I just want to re-emphasize that if your real goal in having her get a job is "to teach them responsibility and prepare them better for employment later," and she is already involved in extracurriculars and sports, then you really should look at whether those activities are teaching her the things you want her to learn better than a job might.

I know that the organizations (environmental clubs, language clubs, service clubs, theatrical productions, student paper) that I was involved with in both high school and college gave me much better leadership skills than any job I had during school, and certainly gave me much more of the ownership over my work necessary for creating a sense of responsibility than stuffing envelopes at a work-study job ever did. At school activities, I got to be a vital part of what was going on, and as a club officer or long-time member I could truly shape where the organization was going and get my hands dirty organizing activities from the ground up. Those are the times that I really got to challenge myself, be creative, and be responsible. The jobs I held during those times basically just gave me a way to pay for some of that, as well as some office skills that look decent on my resume.

Just make sure that the things you're trying to achieve match the way you're trying to achieve them, I guess.
posted by occhiblu at 10:56 AM on March 5, 2007

In college, if you're taking a 15 hour load of non-fluff classes, you should expect to spend 45 hours a week just on classes, meetings, projects, homework, etc. School IS a full time job.

I also argue that you should work as little as possible during college because of all the other opportunities available to you. You'll get more out of those visiting speakers and department seminars than you ever would out of flipping burgers. The same goes for extracurriculars. Clubs, sports, even frats are investments in your future, when you consider that the people you meet and things you learn will help to guide your development into adulthood and teach you a host of real-world skills.

There are exceptions. If you're a journalism major, definitely work on the school paper. If you're in science, definitely get a job working in a lab and doing research. These are more career development than shitty jobs.
posted by chrisamiller at 10:58 AM on March 5, 2007

Obviously to me, this time seems quite wasted but for her it's a diversion/entertainment and part of socializing and forming bonds with other kids.

Yes yes yes. Don't discount the social skills she has to learn at this point in her life. They're a huge part of her developmental tasks right now.
posted by occhiblu at 10:59 AM on March 5, 2007

Depends entirely upon the course. Some only have seven contact hours a week, others have 34. This is not even taking into account homework and other long-term projects that will eat considerable chunks of time.
posted by PuGZ at 11:23 AM on March 5, 2007

Oh, and one more thing - my advice may depend on what kind of school your daughter is at. My school was a small liberal arts college, with TONS of stuff going on around the campus and great opportunities to get involved in service, academic, and fun extracurriculars. If she goes to a commuter school where the campus shuts down at 5, she may have way more free time than I ever did. Then a job might not be so bad.
posted by chrisamiller at 11:29 AM on March 5, 2007

She's in senior, and entering college? Let her make her own decisions.
posted by b33j at 1:12 PM on March 5, 2007

I think it's good for some people to work during high school and college. However, I think working more than a few hours (8-12) per week cuts into study, social and free time.

I was a high achiever in high school, but work (even 12 hours) cut into my study, extracurricular, social and free time. I dropped out of competitive softball and scaled back on drama club. I still volunteered for various other activities, but I'm not sure my service industry job taught me more skills than my other activities. For example, softball taught me about teamwork, discipline, skills enhancement, winning/losing and receiving coaching. Drama taught me to take and give direction, speak in public, plan projects, think creatively and follow through on commitments (with dire consequences if I forgot my lines or costume, e.g.). Is that less important than pouring coffee, writing down orders or the like? Probably not.

However, I did have financial commitments I had to meet for university. And that's why I worked. I knew I had to somehow come up with $40k in tuition and living expenses (back in the early 90s in Canada).

In first-year university, I didn't work until the summer. I think it's fine to just work summers. You're still learning and you're still able to make some money. I enrolled in co-operative education and worked at various relevant jobs during university, often alternating work and school terms. I was able to graduate with three years of full-time experience. And I was debt-free. I wouldn't want anyone to live under the financially dire straights that I did, but I do think it's possible to go to school, offset expenses and gain career skills.

You have to look at each child individually. Some kids cannot handle a job and keep their grades up. And some can't manage a job, school and extracurricular activities. But most kids can handle a summer job.
posted by acoutu at 1:59 PM on March 5, 2007

I don't know about liberal arts majors, but in a good science based major (comp sci, physics, math, chem etc...) having to support yourself during school definetly will be a huge drain on your scholastic achievements. No question about it.

However, not having to work during school definetly does not garuntee success. I knew plenty of people whose parents were paying their way and slacked off because they had no conception of how good they had it.

I would say what is ideal is to pay as much as possible but keep very current with how they are doing in school. They need to understand that they are still very much living on your dime and as such you have an large financial interest in their progress.
posted by Riemann at 2:16 PM on March 5, 2007

Have you actually spoken to her about this? She may enjoy her current level of commitments - despite being tired on occasion! On the other hand she may be reluctant to acknowledge that she is struggling so as not to disappoint you. If that is the case maybe you could help her work out what activities/jobs she wants to keep/let go? But don't push her. She will learn much more if you let her be responsible for her decisions.

Generally I firmly agree with all those that said it depends on the student!

I had a job of sorts ever since I was sixteen - right through secondary school and higher education, went on to do a post-graduate degree. Whilst at school I normally worked a couple of evenings and Saturdays without fail. My grades never suffered.

At uni I got crafty and worked as freelance translator which allowed me to arrange my time and was a lot better paid than a job behind the bar.

Despite working relatively few hours at uni I never spent the sort of hours mentioned above on my studies. This was not because it was an undemanding programme but because I find learning easy and thus got away with doing little, preferably with an imminent deadline to focus the mind.

My point is that irrespective of how many hours I spent at work I would not have put more effort into studying than I did.

And sorry but feeling 'socially miserable' for missing out on extracurricular activities sounds a bit too selfindulgent for my liking...plenty of students have to earn to be able to afford to take part in said same activities/have any kind of social life...and rumour has it that some jobs are actually enjoyable and worthwhile...
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:39 PM on March 5, 2007

My very very personal two cents. I try very hard to not be bitter about being employed while in college. I have some family members who I perceive as being able to help me with this, and other family members who I perceive as potentially able but unwilling. They don't help. To make this more complicated, there are some people I consider my family who help me lots and lots.

I had to stop college 7 years ago because of money and getting back into it is very frustrating. I could be doing better if I didn't have a job. I spend a lot of the time that I screw around on the internet hating myself for wasting time. I have a hard time focusing on some of my reading because I'm always stressed out about money.

If you have the means to allow your daughter not to work in college, please, give her that gift. She already knows what work is like, and hopefully will never have to have one of these types of jobs again. I mean, really, college should be about a 40 hour week workload. It sounds like, for her, it might be. If you are paying her tuition at the school (and if it's public you are through your taxes even if she's got great scholarships) you are also paying for her access to these extra curricular activities. There is no sense in paying for them and then having them unavailable to her because she is working for minimum wage to buy lipstick and cheeseburgers.
posted by bilabial at 2:47 PM on March 5, 2007

I had my first *real* job at 12 - working at a dog kennel to earn cash to a) save and b) spend on things I wanted (bikes, Nike Airs, etc.) above and beyond the basics mom and dad provided.

I graduated from high school early (mid-junior year), moved out on my own (differences w/ parents) and supported myself with a job at a supermarket. I moved back in for a while and began relationship repair with my parents before leaving for college at 18. At that point I had either maintained a part-time or full-time job/internship for 6 straight years.

I received no support from anyone save my parent's co-sign on my school loans in college. I worked nearly full-time (30-40 hours / week) both my freshman and sophmore years, and my grades suffered for it. My junior year I changed majors and found a better balance. My senior year I decided to work very little and put most of my expenses on a credit card. Bad decision, as it took me years to pay off, but I was able to graduate with honors in a major I transfered into in my junior year.

Life after college never got any easier than the juggling game that it was during and before. I wouldn't trade the growth that forced upon me for the $20,000 that would finally get me out of the debt I've lived with for the last decade.

If you want to help your daughter, throw whatever money you would give her in a trust fund. Education is a great thing, but real-world life experience is just as important. I was able to make my putting myself through college and my 10 years of work experience a HUGE selling point coming out of college.
posted by allkindsoftime at 5:46 PM on March 5, 2007

I also suggest "maybe" - this is something you'll need to discuss thoroughly with your daughter about.

Denise Clark Pope, a lecturer at Stamford who is passionate about issues with school students, wrote "Doing School" by following a few students around as they finished senior year and prepared for college. One student took up every extracurricular possible; another was trying to juggle a job with everything else she's doing. Their health and sanity were suffering with the weight of everything they were doing.

Why does she need the job AND everything else she does? Is she genuinely interested in the things she do, or are they just resume filler? Is she taking care of herself?

My experiences:

In secondary school (in Malaysia) I didn't have a job, partly because my dad wouldn't let me (I was supposed to concentrate on school) and partly because entry level jobs here tend to require you finishing school first. I was very active in extra-curriculars, perhaps too much - I once got admitted to hospital for exhaustion because I was trying to coordinate about 3 different things while having a flu bug! I'm not much of a studier, but school subjects weren't that difficult and I tended to do pretty well without trying.

My first run at uni, I didn't have a set job but I did do some freelance writing. I also volunteered a great deal, and was very integral in the running of the uni's clubs & societies. I felt the stress around my 3rd semester when the subjects actually became more challenging and I had more work to do.

I took some time off - half a year to travel, half a year to work an office job (TV station). I didn't really enjoy my job though, so I moved to Australia to continue uni.

My first semester here I was extremely busy. I did get hired (as a murder mystery host!!) but I didn't actually get any work so that wasn't a bother. However, I had extremely challenging uni work (including a subject that totally depressed me the whole semester), I volunteered in a number of events, I was active in my college/residence's activities, I had dance classes, I had friends to meet with and a boyfriend to love, and I was getting involved with the guild. At one point just filling out my calendar was stressful. That was when I knew I was overworked, and ended up having to drop one club because I was just too tired. Dropping that one club made a difference.

Right now I'm in my second semester of uni, and I'm writing to you from the guild office, which is a paying part-time job. My uni subjects are challenging still but not that big a headache - they're not really "study" subjects but more practical, but that's fine. I've signed on for singing lessons and will have a friend teach me swimming; I'm also considering taking up yoga. I'm also a convener at the college/residence, so that takes a little time. I have felt a little stress (mainly at the beginning when I was trying to get myself settled while fighting a sore throat) but now it seems I have time to spare and I'm managing my time to fit them all, giving myself a day to rest.

So basically, talk to her, see how she is, and make sure her basic needs - health, food, happiness - are met.

Good luck!
posted by divabat at 5:53 PM on March 5, 2007

I've never held a job during an academic term. I'm presently a freshman in college.

My highschool government teacher once said "if you want something to get done, assign it to a busy person". Look at the people around you who are most productive - when I did, they were all the people with significant commitments. I used to think productive people simply sought out commitment (and there may be some truth to that) but by and large I think the converse is a more likely scenario. I'm working at a radio station now, and writing software, and involved in several student groups, and I'm more productive than I've ever been (which isn't saying much, but still).

A friend of mine grew up pretty poor in West Virginia. He worked an absurd number of hours per week and still found the time to get good enough grades to be a viable candidate at Harvard (though to be fair, he didn't get in). I've never seen anyone so good at the game of academics, and all the other grade-A tools I know were the same. I knew a guy in highschool who was a wushu ("kung fu!") master, who still found the time to get a nearly perfect GPA.

Having a non-stop workload will either get you in the habit of organizing yourself and getting things done or destroy you.

I've got to get off AskMeFi now...
posted by phrontist at 8:13 PM on March 5, 2007

I did a paper route from ages 11-15, then I got a real job where I worked at least 25 hours/week all through high school and university, where I did a full courseload for four years. I breezed through high school, though, and although I attended most of my classes until my senior year, I spent almost no time doing homework all throughout, unless it interested me, which was rarely. I played a couple of sports outside of school, but I participated in zero extracurricular activities through the school. I didn't care at the time, but now I feel like I should have, especially because I could have done it easily while maintaining my work schedule. Not everyone can.

In university, because I'm the kind of person who likes to read the recommended reading as well as the required stuff, my schoolwork added another 35-40 hours/week. All told, I worked and went to school about 60-65 hours/week. This is a heavy load for four years; I didn't have as much time to socialize or to do things like read for pleasure (outside my classes) as I would have liked. These are significant drawbacks, and I feel like I missed out on lots of the social aspects of university. My grades also suffered, largely because I didn't have enough time during paper- and exam-heavy weeks, but I never had a lot of trouble with school, so I managed to maintain good grades anyway. Finally, I thought about money more than my friends, which leads to stress.

But I chose to work as much as I did, rather than taking out loans. I managed to avoid loans, partly because I got some scholarships as well. Staying out of debt was important to me, and it meant that I had to budget and I had to learn to forego lots of unnecessary expenses. Many of my fellow students who worked little and relied on student loans to maintain a middle class standard of living have a lot of debt and little or no concept of budgeting.

Having a job through university helped me learn how to manage money and it helped me to prioritize things in my life. Moving out of my parent's house halfway through university was easy-peasy for me. I didn't change my spending habits at all, except to put less money into savings and more into rent, food, etc. This is because I realized that I had to work for every dollar I got. I learned to live on about $8000/year, while managing to live in a nice apartment and to eat well. This is much easier to do than it sounds to people who've never done it before (the number depends on standard of living, obviously). Doing it gives you perspective.

I think that if I had the chance to do it all over again, with some minor adjustments, I'd do it largely the same way.
posted by smorange at 8:20 PM on March 5, 2007

Important correction: in the penultimate sentence of my penultimate paragraph, "standard of living" should be "cost of living."
posted by smorange at 8:24 PM on March 5, 2007

It depends on the job and how many hours are worked. I waitressed my way through undergrad and it definitely affected my grades in a very bad way. The good tips came from working evenings, so I'd work until late at night and then have to drag myself to class in the mornings. I also think that working in the highly social atmosphere of a restaurant provided too many temptations to go out and have fun instead of studying. I think if I had a nice library or bookstore type job, I would have fared better.

I'm in graduate school now and work 15 hours a week as a grad assistant in my department. My grades are awesome, my tuition is paid for, plus I have time to get involved with school activities that will look great on my resume.
posted by pluckysparrow at 8:25 PM on March 5, 2007

juggling work adds to stress, but i think the benefits can outweigh this:

* it was the one commitment i felt i couldn't shirk (i skipped class and handed stuff in late all through school, but i was pretty reliable at work)-- hence, i developed organizational skills
* teaches the value of a buck; helps you starts saving early
* provides a resume & references for the real world job market
* provides opportunity to interact with people of different age groups/demographics (both staff & customers at wherever-she-works), which, most important of all, gives a sense of perspective about life outside of school.

maybe the job itself should be addressed- i think the benefits are best from a pleasant, slow-paced job where many of the other staff members are somewhat older.

it's good if the job has a restful quality or else is energizing because it allows her to have side benefits that jive with her interests. in highschool i was a reshelver at a public library- i handled books from all sections of the library, and therefore i read *everything*. the quiet library, the books, the chance to hide among the shelves and flip through things- pretty damn good job for a nerdy 15 year old.

later i worked at an indie movie house with a bunch of people who were 3-8 years older than me- it was incredibly educational. they seemed so "cool", but in retrospect they were just kind, film-nerd university students. they gave me something to aspire to, and introduced me to cool music and art, a more adult world view, gay people, witty banter, vintage clothing, ten-pin bowling, conversations about drugs and sexuality, and lots of good advice for handling my highschool dramas. they were nice to me, though- they really didn't lead me astray at all. i was like their little sister. i learned so much from them.

most important, the pace of both jobs was pleasant, social, and rejeuvenating. later, in university i waitressed, which was a poor choice- each shift wiped me out, the cheap food made me fat, and the job was hectic. i also spent summers as a child-care worker- fun, but exhausting. during school, i could never have handled it. so maybe jobs at places like bookstores, record shops, or indie video rental places would be better choices (pleasanter, peopled by a better demographic of both staff and patrons, and fostering outside interests)- rather than waitressing or brainless mall retail.
posted by twistofrhyme at 12:03 AM on March 6, 2007

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