9 Tips for Managing the Work-Life-School Balance

US News

On your college diploma, you won't see a reference to your dining hall dishwashing gig written in calligraphy and stamped with the university seal. Your transcript will not list the 4.0s you helped other students achieve as a tutor. But in some ways, the jobs you hold in college are as important in shaping your professional life as the classes you take.

And those jobs will impress employers, too.

"Apart from showing your time management, organizational and prioritizing skills, a college job shows future hiring managers that you have grit, willingness to do the dirty work and that you can balance a full load of both school and work," says Brad Karsh, president of JB Training Solutions and co-author of "Manager 3.0: A Millennial's Guide to Rewriting the Rules of Management."

[Read: The New Graduates' Guide to Job Searching .]

But that last bit -- the balancing of school and work -- is not a given. Below, experts help students achieve an equilibrium between their jobs, academics and their social and physical wellness.

First, how to make the most of your college job:

Build a network. "In the jobs you have, you're meeting professionals in and out of the industry you're in that will very likely help you once you're ready to transition from college to career as you search for jobs," says Debbie Kaylor, director of the Boise State University Career Center in Idaho. Keep in touch with the folks you meet throughout your positions, and they may connect you with opportunities later.

To go a step further, Craig Schmidt, senior director of career and professional development at University of California-San Diego's Career Services Center, suggests seeking a mentor who can help you develop professionally. "Look for individuals within that work environment who might inspire you -- who you can learn something from," he says.

[Read: Networking 101 for New Grads .]

Track your achievements in résumés and cover letters. "Students notoriously minimize their experience," Schmidt says. "They say, 'I just worked at the desk. I didn't really do much.'" Give yourself some credit!

The best way to do that when applying to jobs is to list accomplishments and be as specific as possible in describing experiences, Schmidt says. Perhaps, over a certain period, you were promoted from shelf stocker to cashier. Or maybe you were commended regularly for your customer service. Track those accomplishments, and leverage them.

Do your job better than anyone else. "Put in extra effort, volunteer to help out others and always think, 'How can I improve on the position?'" Karsh says. He gives a dining hall job as an example. "A student could say, "Hey, I know I'm schlepping food, but if we stacked the plates this way, wouldn't it be more efficient?"

Go into the role with intentionality. Schmidt suggests considering: "What do I want to get out of this in addition to just earning money?" Depending on the role, you may want to grow your writing or team-building skills, make friends or build a network. His suggestion for a goal: "'Make sure this job enables me to demonstrate my abilities so that when I leave, I've established a strong, positive reference for the future.'"

Look for new opportunities. Once you've mastered your job's duties, look for new ways to grow and expand your skill set. "You may not be in charge of marketing, but don't be afraid to suggest some marketing ideas," Karsh says. "Or even ask to spend some time outside of your normal work hours shadowing that area."

Here's how to hold down the job without sacrificing your academics -- or sanity:

Ease into a work schedule. Kaylor suggests that incoming freshmen don't work at all their first semester, if they're in a financial situation to do so. Students can use that time to "understand what it takes to be successful in college," she says. "College isn't just 13th grade. There's a lot more out-of-classroom work and more studying," she says, adding that of course, students want time to have fun, too.

Schedule wisely.
All students are different in terms of how much work they can take on along with everything college throws at them. But generally, Kaylor and Schmidt suggest incoming freshmen and upperclassmen log no more than 20 hours of work per week. (Schmidt lists 12 to 15 hours as the sweet spot, and Kaylor cites 15 to 20 hours.) Take on a full course-load and 20-plus hours, and that delicate balance between work, school and wellness -- eating, sleeping, exercising and having fun -- can be thrown out of whack.

[See: The 100 Best Jobs .]

Talk to your manager about expectations. Kaylor points out that with university jobs, the school is the employer, and so most supervisors prioritize academics. For example, managers will understand that your workload will increase during final examinations, and they'll likely allow you to work fewer hours during that time.

Perhaps you take a job that isn't affiliated with the university -- say, at a local coffee shop. Given that those businesses are near a college, those supervisors likely understand that student employees must work around their academic schedules, Kaylor says. But just in case, she says students should make their academic priorities clear during the interview process. She suggests saying something like, "I will give you what you need as long as you understand that my schedule is subject to change, and that we can work around it."

Seek help if you need it. Schmidt lists a few red flags of being overworked: suffering grades, trouble meeting deadlines, feeling like there's no room for a social life between school and work, and any sense of anxiety, depression or fatigue. If any of these sound familiar, ask your manager to cut back your hours, he suggests.

Schmidt also says it may help to speak about stress with your resident assistant, if you live in the dorms. He points out that most schools have psychological services, too, which may be useful for talking through stressors and managing the work-life-school balance.



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