The Delicate Balance: College Academics Vs. Part-Time Jobs

Taylin (Second from front left) with her co-workers: other BBA ambassadors

As college students know, working a part-time job is a great way to help fund your education or earn a little extra money. However, when you add a part-time job onto an already-busy schedule, it can become difficult to balance work with assignments and deadlines.

I’ve had to figure out this balance as a BBA student at the Ross School of Business. Growing up, my mother would often say, “If you don’t get any scholarships, you won’t attend college.” Therefore, my financial situation and working has always been front-and-center since I didn’t have enough in scholarships to fully support my education. My first job in college was a work-study program, where I worked for MDining as a food packager during the fall semester of my first year. Throughout sophomore year, I worked as a resident assistant, a mentor for the Ross Summer Connection program, and a BBA ambassador. That doesn’t include volunteering for a non-profit organization. This year, I will be continuing working those jobs, along with being a sales consultant for an advertising company. Therefore, I have quite a bit of experience juggling multiple roles at once as a student. Here are three lessons that I’ve learned.

A sample schedule from a day in my life

1) Stay Organized and Know Your Priorities

My first piece of advice is to have a set organizational system. You can use a planner, Google Calendar, or a scheduling app, to input meetings, assignment deadlines, and important reminders. That way, you can plan your schedule accordingly so that you have time for your academics, job, and extracurricular activities and social events.

By doing this, you can also better visualize your schedule and its capacity. I often hear the analogy that college activities are like a buffet. Everything may look appealing, but you can only take on so much –-whether that be credit hours, part-time jobs, or extracurriculars. Seeing how full your schedule is before you make commitment saves you from being overwhelmed or giving yourself too little free time.

From there, it is important to plan out what you want to accomplish for each day. Personally, I like to make lists of what needs to be completed based upon the priority level of each task. For instance, on Fridays, I don’t have classes, so I plan out my time between working my various jobs and developing myself academically. Events on Fridays, such as career development opportunities or working a shift, take precedence. Then, I incorporate breaks and meal times into my daily schedule. Finally, I devote the time in between all of this to working on assignments in accordance with their due dates. In turn, this helps me to break down a long month into weeks, and then weeks into manageable day-sized pieces. This helps me to reduce my stress level and better take care of my mental health.

Taylin (Center) with her co-workers: other BBA ambassadors

2) Finding Resources: Where To Ask For Help

Now, despite following these steps, I know from personal experience that it is still possible to be overwhelmed. I understand the feeling of wanting to take on everything that you signed up for. I also know how important it can be to keep your current job due to financial considerations. However, this does not mean that you need to do it all alone.

One of the biggest resources I have utilized within Michigan Ross is academic advising. On a monthly basis, I would meet with my academic advisor. I talked to him about my current academic performance, my various jobs, and how life was going at the time. I have found my academic advisor to be a great source of advice on school-work balance and he is one of my biggest supporters. I could talk to him about any problems that I was facing, and he helped me put everything into perspective so that I could work through it.

For instance, during last year’s second semester, I was struggling to find time for myself in between my classes and various jobs. I was quite stressed, but talking to my academic advisor helped me to realize that I needed to schedule personal time. He showed me that self-care is more important than anything else, and that I needed to start prioritizing it more. I began to allow time for myself in my daily schedules, and I made sure to work ahead of deadlines so that I could take a short break from my work if I got overstressed. Furthermore, I decided to incorporate designated time for my social life so that I could attend social gatherings and relax with my friends. In turn, this helped me to manage my workload in a way that reduced my stress levels and increased my motivation.

While I haven‘t  used their services yet, I am comforted to know that there are people within the University of Michigan’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) who are available if I ever need them. They can help students to manage the stress that comes from balancing academics and a part-time job, and they can give referrals to other professionals as well.

3) Balancing It All

Taylin Nichols

My last piece of advice is to establish a mental list where you rate, in order of importance, each of your roles. For instance, the order of my roles goes like this: I am a person first-and-foremost, a student second, and whatever else third. In my case, my financial situation is at the forefront of my mind. Hence, my role as a part-time employee comes third before other opportunities like extracurricular activities.

Although you may feel compelled to do so, don’t push yourself beyond your limits. There is strength in knowing when you’ve taken on too much, and there’s nothing wrong with dropping activities of lesser importance when you need to do so. Furthermore, be sure to take time for yourself. Everyone needs a second to just be themselves and not think about the other roles. So if you feel like you want to take a walk, go for it! If you want to hang out with your friends on occasion, do it! Remember, there can be no balance between academics and a part-time job without you, so be sure to take care of yourself and always be sure to ask for help when needed.

Bio: I am a third-year Bachelor of Business Administration student with a minor in Spanish. My hometown is Painesville, OH, which is a suburb of Cleveland, and I am a Chinese-Vietnamese adoptee from China. I work on campus as a resident assistant, BBA Ambassador, and a mentor for the Ross Summer Connections program. My interests include reading, playing video games, and binging tv series.