Is it worth getting a job while doing your degree?

It’s a dilemma that has plagued many a student over the years, but should you really be considering taking on a part-time job?

Thanks to the current job climate, students have been forced to heed the incessant reminder that, without prior experience, their employability factor is almost non-existent.

This phrase ‘prior experience’ is problematic in that many students don’t quite know what it actually means. A quick search on the web informs us that it broadly denotes an ‘experience learned in life’. With that inexplicably ambiguous definition considered, it’s small wonder that students are split on the importance of a part-time job.

There is a wide belief that undertaking a part-time job will increase the likelihood of a graduate’s employability. Indeed, while it is true that a future employer would like to see that your university activity stretches beyond that of your degree programme, they’d prefer it if the experience was relevant. Of course, if you’re a part-time waiter who intends on progressing into the restaurant industry, that’s fine. If, on the other hand, your ambitions are to enter corporate banking, then an employer will most likely sneer at the irrelevance of waiting experience. In all honesty, it would be better to focus on extra-curricular activities that can be applied towards a future career.

Perhaps you are less privileged than some of your peers; perhaps you need this job to ensure that you’re above the poverty threshold. Chris Simon, of the University of Lancaster, says that his job was a 'lifesaver', and that it allowed him 'to live out his student days without having to fear about money'. Some students do need additional financial support, universities and Student Finance do provide decent amounts of income support – all of which is means tested – hopefully to ensure that money problems do not overshadow a student’s studies. In actual fact, the only reason a student could enter into the red zone is if they lived beyond their economic means; a situation that can be applicable to anyone.

On the other hand, a part-time job will, undoubtedly, ensure that you are financially secure. Your friends might need to settle for that distinctly unappetising value meal lasagne, you will never have that problem. Or, should you wish to take a year out after your studies, that extra bit of income could quite easily be tucked away into a savings account; the greatest reward you could give to yourself after years of hard study and labour.

Sheffield university’s Becky Cooper suggests that 'a job could negatively affect your student’s university work', but this doesn’t have to be the case. Typically, a part-time, student job lasts no more than 15 hours per week. Provided you’re not exceeding this figure, your studies, job and social life should all co-exist healthily - after all, real working people manage a 40-hour week without too much trouble!

All in all, there’s no reason to suggest that there is anything wrong with undertaking a part-time job. If nothing else, it could be both character building, and a good way to branch out into another social circle. The financial benefits are a definite bonus, but are you focusing too much on what’s happening right now, and not enough on what is yet to come? Instead, wouldn’t it be more beneficial to ensure that, upon your graduation, you are endowed with a wealth of relevant experience? There isn’t really a ‘right’ answer, so don’t worry about it too much; after all, you’re only at university once, y’know.

Matthew Hawker is in his second year at Sheffield University. Follow him on Twitter here.

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