From waiting tables to bartending, weeding yards to parking cars, Marcus Craig, a junior at Texas Christian University, figures he's worked just about every part-time job.
Mr. Craig, 20, said he makes about enough money to keep himself in college and have a little left over to spend in his rare free time. Studying and working, he said, are a reality of life for most of his classmates, even those who are fortunate enough to have full scholarships. But, he said, there is such a thing as too much work. "I didn't want work to interfere with my schooling," said Mr. Craig, who finds jobs through Rent-A-Frog, a Fort Worth-based student employment service, "There are options to working so much that you forget why you're going to school. I study in the evenings and on the weekends when I'm not in class, and that's a juggling act in itself."
For many college students, working provides needed income for incidentals and often gives a firsthand view of the workplace not afforded in the classroom. "Working helps students financially so they're not incurring long-term debt and more loans," said Janet Peters, coordinator of the Student Employment Service at the University of Texas at Arlington. "It helps them establish a work record when they're preparing for professional jobs and teaches time management."
Ms. Peters said the current job market favors students who look for part-time work, but not as many jobs are tailored to college students' unique schedules. The danger with part-time jobs, Ms. Peters said, is that students don't leave enough time for studying and afternoon and evening labs. "It doesn't take students - usually freshmen - a very long time to figure out that it's very difficult to balance 40 hours of work and a full college load," she said. "They see those open afternoons and think that they have more time than they did in high school. But they don't."
Micah Mullican, 17, a senior at W.T. White High School in Dallas, said he currently works from 5 to 10:30 p.m. as a host at a local Chili's restaurant. He said he looks forward to working in college because he's been able to balance school and classwork in high school. "To pay my way through college, I'll have to work," he said. "Right now, working can be a task if I have a lot of homework, but I'm pretty organized. I make as good or better grades as my friends. I have my priorities straight."
Recent surveys, however, show that more students in the United States work after school than students in other countries. And that additional work, researchers say, could contribute to lower math and science scores, though that theory is still unproved. Data released this year by the Third International Math and Science Study shows that 55 percent of U.S. high school seniors work more than three hours a day at a paid job, compared with an international average of 18 percent. About 75 percent of international students, in fact, reported working less than one hour a day.
Joy Barnhart, principal at W.T. White, said she's considered taking her own survey about how many of her students work because she knows the number would be high. "Some of these students are quite successful at juggling it all, and you have to admire that," she said. "I know how much it takes to live and how much tennis shoes and insurance payments on a car costs. "Many of them will be able to keep up this pace in college because they're used to it."
Ms. Peters at UTA said that even if students have worked before, college is a different arena where Students have a demand upon themselves to juggle their schedule that leaves time for both school and work. "Most students can work 20 hours a week and fare pretty well," she said. "Once you go over that, something's got to give."
Warren Prescott, president of Rent-A-Frog, said most of the students he recommends for part-time jobs work 20 to 25 hours per week. He said it's difficult for many students to turn down extra hours because it means more money. "We have enough students working here that if one student has a test or has to study, they don't feel like they have to work," said Mr. Prescott, who places students from at least four area colleges. "We never push them because we know that their first job is in the classroom."
Stephenie Taylor, 30, a senior at UTA, said she's returned to college so she can earn an income in advertising and pay off her college career. "I have to work in college; I can't get past it," said Ms. Taylor, who currently works 37 hours a week on campus. "It's not easy to work and go to school. There's a lot of freedom that comes with college - it's all what you make of it."