Working full-time while in higher education: It's tough but doable

 

The challenge for today’s student is to be able to find a job while at university that not only benefits them financially but that also reflects well on their chosen degree and career path.

The student loan system guarantees graduates a safe passage through university, but the harsher reality of having to repay this debt as soon as one begins to earn looms just around the corner.

Where a majority of students prefer either not to work at all, or to work part-time to earn some money on the side, there is a new generation of students beginning to get to grips with the trials and tribulations of balancing a demanding full-time job with a degree.

When I started higher education almost three years ago, I was acutely aware that work would become an inevitable part of the student life I was about to adopt. Despite my eagerness to work my way through a three-year PR degree, I immediately realised that being a self-supporting student in London with a part-time job was tougher than expected. Being an EU student, the tuition fees were covered by the The Student Loan Company, which still left me with an average of £15,000 of living costs a year to take care of.

The student handbook strongly advises all students to work no more than 15 hours a week so they don't compromise their degree. However, I soon discovered that finding a full-time and decently paid job proved to be a much easier task than any part-time job with suitable hours.

Assuring my future employers that I could cope with full-time hours was a good way to get their attention, so they'd even consider me as a serious candidate in the first place. It was not easy to sacrifice breaks and holidays to show work that I was serious about my job, but gradually it became easier to negotiate a more flexible and study-friendly schedule.

Working in the service industry is a natural choice; I feel I have learnt much of what I know about society from the food its people eat. Studying public relations, I was always fascinated by restaurants where London’s movers and shakers would be part of the regular scenery.

Hence I decided to walk through the doors of The Ivy. It just so happened that they were in need of someone to take a waiting job with immediate effect. It  was a combination of  luck and being at the right place at the right time, but it took a lot of dedication to stay employed there. Instead of being star-struck, I admired the discretion of this culinary institution; how the staff knew exactly how to be proactive when needed and how to keep distance when required. It was a great challenge to keep up with extremely driven individuals and to work myself on the same level as everyone else, especially with my degree  being a big part of my life.

Eventually my ambition drove me onto a further challenge, that of becoming a Maitre d’Hotel in another London top restaurant.

The London high-end restaurants I have worked at until now have all been  canteens for the PR industry and there are many parallels to be drawn between the two. Like in PR, a crisis in a restaurant can happen at any time and you need to be ready to react to any kind of setback. It takes constant awareness and understanding of people and their reactions that makes customers so loyal as they are.

Naturally, walking the fine line between the professional and student life is what I have preparing myself for all these years but it has still put a lot of pressure on my personal life. That said, pressure can be the best form of motivation a student can have and working full-time does not necessarily contradict high results. While the experience of working triple the recommended hours is beneficial in the long run, it also offers an instant benefit for the standard of living.

I feel comfortable in my North London flat, shared with only one other person, and the financial control over my own life as a student gives me the confidence I need. Furthermore, the professional confidence I have gained over the past few years  will undoubtedly provide me with a headstart on the job market as a prospective graduate. Having learnt a lot about my own strengths and weaknesses is why I recommend this to anyone who finds himself questioning whether a university degree is a journey worth embarking on.

My current job combines every aspect I love about restaurants and helps me further understand how people react and behave, and what will motivate and annoy them. Sharing my experience feels particularly relevant right now: by the time I will be graduating, I have found a job I love, that is also a stepping stone towards my future career. My experience shows that full-time working students are not an urban myth.

Ingrid Valk is a third-year student in University of Westminster. Follow her on Twitter here.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Ashdown Group: Trainee / Graduate Helpdesk Analyst

£20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable business is looking to rec...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Data Analyst - Essex - £25,000

£23500 - £25000 per annum + Training: Ashdown Group: Graduate Data analyst/Sys...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Account Manager

£16000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate Account Manager is r...

Guru Careers: Graduate Account Manager / Sales Executive

£18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Account Man...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee