Part-time jobs have always been part of the landscape for post-secondary students. I was very fortunate in being able to stay out of debt by piecing together cash from a great summer job, a few scholarships and awards, returning my empties, and sponging some RESP money off of my folks. Therefore I never needed a part-time job (although I did do a fair number of one-off gigs). For many other students finding a part-time job to make ends meet is a reality. Problems start to arise though, when the job interferes with what should be your primary goal: getting decent grades. If you’re not going to bother getting decent grades who are you really fooling? You’re not going to school for your own sake at that point, because if it came down to what’s best for you, you might as well try and get a much better full-time job as opposed to trying to squish being a student in.
Back In The Day
Back in the grand old days of economic lore (2008), Statistics Canada says students were able to find full-time employment 70% of the time. These numbers have dipped to the 50% mark over the last couple of years, and only two-thirds of students are not able to find any work at all. In fact, the average number of hours worked weekly amongst working students during the summer is now 27.7, and the average hourly earnings was just under $13.00. Over an 18-week summer, that only puts most students into the 7-8K range. If you live at home and are able to sweet talk your folks into supporting your educational pursuits by letting you live rent free, that might be enough to squeeze by. If you plan to live away from home while you go to school though, then more money is going to have come from somewhere (a lot more money btw).
The New Normal
So, if the new norm in an economy that has been absolutely devastated for you adults in Canada is to find summer work haphazardly, then the question becomes, just how many hours can a student work and still juggle a course load? Obviously that question has a ton of variables built in such as what kind of courses is the person taking? How many of them? What sort of work is it? And probably the most important question is what kind of person are you in terms of being able to handle organization and stress? I’ve seen some people work more than forty hours a week and still take a full course load. That course load was all arts courses, and they didn’t have much of a social life, but all the same, that’s pretty impressive. I’ve seen other students absolutely collapse while trying to hammer out 20 hours a week at a job off-campus while pursuing a science- or math-heavy course load that is full of labs and intense study sessions.
How Much Is Too Much?
In terms of some general guidelines for how much work you should be taking on during the school year, a recent report by Katherine Marshall titled, “Employment Patters of Postsecondary Students” has some interesting suggestions. The report stated that while most “experts” (I always love how vague, yet impressive that term is) felt any amount of part-time work would adversely affect studies (academia is their life, why isn’t it yours?), the results of grades vs hours worked were fairly inconclusively when students kept their part-time hours fairly low. After students begin to work more than a minimal amount of hours though their grades have a negative correlation, and a pretty strong one. This basically means that if all other things are equal, the average student should keep a very close eye on their work-life balance, especially if they are taking a heavy course load. I’m all for working hard and bringing in income, but you have to work smart too, so don’t overdo it!