Having a part-time job at university can be fantastic for three reasons: firstly, it gives you financial independence from your parents, which is great practice for the real world; secondly, it gives you something productive to do in the hours you are whiling away not doing your degree (this point is aimed primarily at humanities students – hey there seven contact hours a week); and thirdly, good, honest, minimum-wage work experience is really useful to have on your CV.
However, despite these benefits a part-time job can also ruin your time at university, and hopefully I can steer you in the direction of a healthy way to earn some extra dosh and not exhaust yourself to the point of being miserable.
In my first year at university, I was actually quite excited to get my first proper part-time job. I printed off a bunch of CVs and walked around the shopping centre closest to my uni. I got to the third café and the lady I spoke to, who turned out to be the boss, told me she was looking for someone, scanned my CV, and asked me to come back the next day to have a chat about what the job would involve.
The job itself was quite simple: the café sold 99p baguettes and I had to make up the baguettes each morning. The deal was that I would work flexible hours, and this ended up as me going in to make up baguettes from 8am every morning of the week, and working until my first lecture.
At first, I thought this was a fantastic deal. I was put on a trainee wage of £5 an hour with the promise that this would go up after a 5-week probationary period. I could go home during the holidays and would only have to work a few hours each morning.
It turned out that this job would be horrendous: a soul-sucking, energy-draining monster of a workplace. My wage never got pushed up, and my boss had probably never had the intention of putting it up in the first place. I soon learned that having a job that requires getting up at 7am every morning while in your first year of university is a terrible idea.
Don’t make yourself unhappy
When everyone wants to be going out on a Monday night, Tuesday night, Wednesday night, oh, and a Thursday as well, and every time you know you won’t be able to manage getting up the next morning, it quickly makes you very unhappy. And you’re not just unhappy because you have to say no, but because all the time you’re going to bed early you are worried what you’re missing, who’s making friends without you, all of the fun you’re not having. And even though you’ve said no, you don’t sleep all that well because there are then drunk screaming students outside your door at 3am.
I didn’t enjoy my first year of university much, and I think this job was the foremost reason.
However, at the end of first year, I applied for a job with my university’s Students’ Union (SU), still working in a café but with a higher wage, greater job security, and an average of two shifts per week. The shifts are longer, but you are free five days of the week, meaning you can go out, spend time with friends, and lay in if you don’t have a lecture until midday!
When applying for that first job, I wish I had known that a café that sells baguettes for 99p does not have the luxury of treating its workers nicely (although my boss was a horrible lady who could have made it a much more pleasant environment).
Working for the SU has so many benefits in and of itself, including the fact that the job is specifically tailored to students, so you can have time off during your exams, you automatically have holidays off, you get treated fairly and, the best part, you are working with other students like you. In the first job, I worked with three grumpy middle-aged women who hated their jobs, but now I work with a big team of lively, happy students, and I’ve made so many friends that the job doesn’t feel like a job any more.
Look after yourself
I can’t stress the importance of looking after yourself when looking for a part-time job. Don’t jump at the first opportunity offered if the job seems sub-par, because the chances are there will be plenty of places looking to take on students and it’s better to make sure it’s a place that will treat you well.
Although it sounds biased, I think that working for your SU, or even for your university (jobs with the university itself often pay very well for part-time work) is the best choice you can make. It’s easy to balance two shifts a week with your university work, and you really don’t get taken advantage of. University can be so much fun, and it’s a shame to ruin your time there with a horrible job.
Do you have any more advice for students looking for a part-time job at university? Let us know in the comments below.
Photo: Alpha / Flickr