Sunday, April 01, 2007

How to Make a Part-Time Job Work: Tips From College Students

What's the best strategy for working part time while taking either grad school or under grad classes? I asked that question to several students. My husband -- who attended full-time classes and worked part-time shortly after our second child was born -- also provided some tips. In earlier posts, I've provided tips from my Dad, who often worked several jobs during my childhood.


"I picked a job where they were flexible about working around my schedule," said my husband Avi, who worked at a latte cafe while attending full-time classes for an interior design degree program.

As an undergraduate, Lisa Ibanez, of Hialeah, worked up to 20 hours a week for two years in the infant room at a preschool affiliated with the University of Miami.

“I changed diapers. I gave bottles. I prepared food,” recalls Ibanez, who is now a grad student at UM.

She enjoyed working with children and appreciated the flexibility of her on-campus assignment, which enabled her to easily shift between classes and work. As a graduate student, she now works on campus as a research assistant and enjoys the same level of flexibility that she encountered during her undergraduate years. Campus-based employers are also lenient during mid-term and final exam periods and make accommodations during academic crunch periods.

“All of the people knew that we were students first and employees second,” says Ibanez.


Alex Jean-Jacques, a work-study student from Hollywood, Florida: As a senior at Broward Community College, Jean-Jacques works six to eight hours a day in the school’s financial aid office in downtown Fort Lauderdale.

On a typical Tuesday, for example, he wakes up at 4:30 am to lift weights and prepare for an 8:00 am class on campus. By 10, he reports to the Financial Aid office, where he works until 4:30 pm. After a three-hour evening class, Jean-Jacques studies until midnight. It’s a long day, but the perks of campus employment extend far beyond the paycheck.

“I’m able to learn more and gain more experience, especially while working in an office,” says Jean-Jacques, who hopes to be an architect.


"I also picked a job where I had fun," my husband Avi said. "I'm real social. Working in a coffee shop wasn't a tremendous hardship to me."

He also picked a part-time job that was near his school and he really used his commuting time to study. He took the bus (cheap transportation) and used the bus ride to read for class.


For many students work-study programs bridge the fiscal gap between professional aspirations and the five-figure annual costs of higher education. Most colleges and universities offer a diverse mix of work-study programs, which provide student workers with a paycheck, work experience and flexible schedules. The various programs involve federal, state and private funds.

Under the Federal Work Study program, the U.S. government provides colleges and universities with the funds to cover up to 75 percent of the cost of work-study salaries. Individual schools finance the remaining balance of the student payroll. Students can apply for the Federal Work Study program by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Work-study grants are awarded based on need, but students are urged to apply early for the federal program because of limited funds.


Work-study programs are an earn-as-you-go opportunity to help students pay for their college education,” said Marcia Conliffe, Associate VP of Student Success & Enrollment Management Services at BCC. “By earning money to cover their educational expenses, students are not forced to borrow as much in student loans that will need to be repaid after graduation.”


Many of the students, I chatted with worked second jobs that provided mentors and resume experience for their post-school careers.

Catalina Castillo, a second -year student and a psychology major, works three hours each day in the media relations department where she tracks, files and distributes newspaper articles about Miami-Dade College and its affiliated programs. The job pays $6.40 an hour and Castillo says that the office experience provides excellent training for her future career as a psychologist.

Miami-Dade College also participates in Florida Work Experience Program, a state program that reimburses private companies that hire MDC students. Using state funds, Miami-Dade College reimburses employers 70 percent of the cost of student salaries, according to Luis Betancourt, MDC’s director of Work Programs. On behalf of the school, Betancourt actively recruits local companies to participate in the work-study program, including law firms and other professional services companies.

“The companies cut costs and save money, and the students get a foot in the door,” Betancourt says. “You have students working alongside people who might possibly become mentors.”



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