Everything you need to know about working while you study

At least 45% of students now work part-time while they’re in full-time education at university. The job can act as a supplement for your student loan, a way to increase your skill base and add to your CV, and give you a little bit of extra pocket money as a bonus. But if left unchecked, it can also start to impact on studies, and take time away from crucial education. If you are looking for a job while you’re at university, or you’re concerned about your financial situation as you head to university this year, here’s everything you need to know about employment, your rights, and how to balance work and study.

The Pros

First things first, let’s touch on the benefits of working throughout your university education. With fees sky high, and the cost of living at its highest ever point, university can be a time for some pretty severe money troubles. It can be really isolating too – while all your mates are out partying, you’re stuck at home skint and bored. But a part-time job can help to alleviate this (and also gives you less time to spend your money as a bonus). It gives you more money to spend on the things you’ll enjoy, such as trips, nights out, and even birthday presents for friends and family members. You might even decide to start to save.

Employment experience is great for taking forwards. The first part-time job tends to be the hardest – it’s cheaper for employers to hire someone who is already trained up in that role, rather than spend money on staff training themselves. That being said, employers still will and do hire inexperienced people because they like their spark, or they think they’ll fit in well with the company.

Getting that first-time job is getting onto the first rung of the employment ladder, so even if it’s a job you’re only doing for eight hours a week, and thoroughly despise, it’s all experience to put on your CV. It also helps when you’re looking for employment after your education is over. Who do you think is more employable to a graduate scheme – someone who worked for eight hours a week for three years behind a bar, or someone who partied for those three years instead? A part-time job at university teaches you how to interact with workplace responsibilities, your superiors, and how to manage expectations in a way that nothing else can.

The Cons

It can be tricky to balance work life, social life, and education. People who are employed throughout university have to hone their time keeping skills far more than people who don’t. After all, working takes valuable studying and socialising time away. Some people find this balance too difficult to stay on top of, and find that their studies slip or their social life takes a dive. The real risk is working too many hours a week – most universities recommend that full-time undergraduate students are employed for no more than 16 hours in any given week. This still allows them to treat their studies as a full-time job, and spend time with friends too.

Your Rights

Students who work and study have the same rights as everyone else, but are the first to be pushed around. Some employers will take advantage of the fact that students are not experienced in the working world, and may not know their rights. Speak to your new employer about any prior responsibilities you may already have. For example, don’t allow them to push you into missing important lectures or classes because they require you to work a shift. If you speak to them about your responsibilities before it comes up, you will both be able to work out if they job is suitable for your requirements, as well as theirs.

You are always entitled to the minimum wage of your wage group, and you are always entitled to work the hours laid out in your contract, unless discussed in person or in writing. You are entitled to take paid holiday leave, and you’re even entitled to a uniform tax rebate if your employer requires you to pay or wash your own uniform. However, some students may work on a zero-hours contract. This means they’re not entitled to a certain number of hours each week, and their employer can choose not to have them work at all for weeks in a row. You are, however, still entitled to rest breaks, minimum wage, and holiday pay. If you choose to work during your education, don’t allow your employer to walk all over you – make sure you know your rights.

Balancing Work With Study

Balancing study and work can be tricky. You need to be ruthless with your organisation skills, and make sure your time management is perfect – don’t worry, this is a skill you’ll need to learn at some point, so now is as good a time as any. Good communication is also key. Keeping an open dialogue with your tutor and your boss allows you to balance their expectations, as well as your own.

Be realistic about how much time you have to fulfil each task – try to overestimate instead of underestimate. Can you really fit a work shift, a few hours of studying, and a night out into one 24 hour period, and still get enough sleep to be healthy and high-functioning? If you work a set number of shifts, don’t just take on extra cover shifts to be helpful – your employment, health, and happiness have to come first, and your employer should understand that.

Finding The Right Job

Some jobs are more suited to students than others. For example, it’s not surprising that bar jobs are the go to – they don’t clash with lectures, and they’re sociable. But how do you find the perfect student job? There are a few options – you could just walk around your campus and town with a CV, speaking to managers and making a great impression. It’s also useful to consult your university job shop, apply for roles online, and ask friends to keep an ear to the ground for any upcoming opportunities. You have to be tenacious – there will always be rejections – but keep on refining your CV, practising speaking to employers, and you’ll find a job in no time.

Working during university can arm you with some great transferable skills, but be careful not to overdo it!

Howe did you find your student job at university? Let us know in the comments.

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