Working while going to college is becoming the new normal, it seems. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 76 percent of college students between the ages of 16 and 24 worked at least part-time in 2013.1 If students aren’t careful, working while attending college could distract them from their studies, hurt their grades and even jeopardize their chances of graduating. This is especially relevant to economically disadvantaged students, who are more likely to work more hours. High school counselors can help now by teaching their students these keys to successful work/school balance.
Emphasize the Importance of Work Schedule Flexibility
Advise students to find a job with flexible scheduling to accommodate the demands of school. Choosing the right job and communicating with supervisors are both important for making this strategy work. A supportive employer can assist students with succeeding at both work and school. Employers may even give special recognition or promotions to workers who are successfully balancing the demands of work and school.
Teach Time Management Skills
Counselors can also lead by example and teach students time management skills that help make busy schedules work. One strategy is to work with students to plan out their week. For example:
- There are 168 hours in a week; subtract 56 hours for sleep, and you are left with 112 hours for waking activity, including eating, travel, work and class
- Of this remaining time, the National Education Association and National PTA recommend that teachers should assign students no more than 10 minutes of homework per grade level for all classes combined, meaning that a high school senior should expect to study at least two hours a day2
- Students can then work with their guidance counselors to schedule their work hours appropriately
Finally, point them to Baruch College’s online time management calculator, which they can use to plan their schedules in college.3
Emphasize the Need for Down Time
Student schedules should allow sufficient time for sleep and downtime. Lack of sleep and overwork can contribute to burnout, a major deterrent to completing school successfully. MIT recommends that students should study in one-hour blocks with 50 minutes of study followed by 10 minute breaks, with additional breaks of 20 to 30 minutes scheduled throughout the day.4
Teach Budgeting Principles
Finally, teach students solid budgeting principles which they can carry with them all their lives. Innumerable financial experts recommend following the 50/20/30 rule of budgeting, which allocates 50 percent of monthly income to fixed expenses such as rent, 20 percent to financial goals such as saving and repaying debt, and 30 percent towards discretionary spending on variable expenses such as clothes, eating out, and entertainment.5 Applying this guideline, housing costs would fall within the 50 percent of income devoted to fixed expenses, while saving for college would fall within the 20 percent allocated to financial goals. These figures can be adjusted for students who live in higher-rent areas or who have differing obligations on non-rental bills.
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