Work vs. school, and how to do both

Posted November 09, 2012 by


Who has a better deal, working stiffs or college students? Which group has an easier day stretching out in front of them when they wake up in the morning? Who feels a stronger sense of reward and accomplishment before dropping back into bed at the end of that day?  Who has more pocket money for the short term or retirement money for the long haul? Who gets more respect from society? With our friends at LiveCareer, we ran the numbers, and this is what we came up with.

Is work or school more fun? 

Even at its worst, college can still be a blast. Yes, you have 400 pages of Kierkegaard to process during the next 48 hours, but where better to tackle this task than in a dorm room surrounded by intelligent friends sharing interesting ideas with pizza just a phone call away?  Sure you have a test tomorrow that will determine the entire course of your future success or failure, but right afterwards you’ll be out late doing something you won’t tell your mother about. Standard working life offers occasional break room birthday parties with stale cake and fluorescent lights, but college offers new ideas, great friends, road trips and the constant sense of possibility and invincibility.

The key though, is to find a job that you truly enjoy at a company you adore. If you get along with your coworkers and like the culture of the company you work for, work will be a lot more fun for you.

Which gives you a greater sense of reward?

School may be more fun, but at the end of the day, working life feels satisfying in a way that doesn’t have much to do with fun. And ironically, once they’re over, the most difficult working days sometimes feel the best. Work may bring endless challenges, but there’s something indescribable about being charged with tasks that only you can do, or relied on for skills that you alone possess after years of struggle, study, and experience. We truly feel like independent adults when we’re trusted, needed and—best of all—paid for our efforts.

Work pays. School doesn’t, at least right now.

College is expensive. There’s no way to sugar coat this. Unless you have a full scholarship with no strings attached, the university experience can be expected to put a dent in your personal finances and cramp your lifestyle for years to come. Meanwhile, while you’re in school, it’s not easy to hold down a 40 hour per week job at the same time. When money is flowing out to satisfy tuition debts and not flowing in, most of us have no choice but to live on a shoestring, beg our parents for handouts, or rack up credit card debt we might regret later. Financial hardship (even temporary hardship) is no picnic.

Those with college degrees do tend to earn more over the long term, so an upfront investment in a degree program—while temporarily painful—is very important. In the end, college is what ultimately makes it possible for us to reach our career and monetary goals. Most people will be much more comfortable money-wise once they have escaped the financial hardships of college life and have a job and a way to support themselves.

Does work or school get you more respect?

Does school or work get you more respectOur culture tends to reward hard work and determination in any form. Why else do we spend all our time at social gatherings complain-bragging about how busy we are? Parents are proud when their children work hard, either by tackling difficult courses of study or skipping the college route and laying pipe all day. If we’re engaged with the tasks in front of us and we care about the outcome of our efforts, then we’ve earned respect from the people around us (whether they actually give us that respect or not). But there’s a small distinction: While students are respected for what they might do in the future, employees are respected for what they’re doing now and have already done. Preference for one over the other lies in the eye of the beholder.

Which provides your more free time?

The calculations here are simple really, and they’re rooted in the fact that working life is rarely accompanied by homework. Yes, as a working person you might have to stay late at the office once in a while, and you might sometimes feel a lot of stress and pressure while on the clock. But in most cases, work stays in the office, and when you go home in the evening or on the weekends, the stress doesn’t follow you. The line between personal time and homework time in college, on the other hand, is not as well defined, and can leave students in constant conflict.

How to do both work and school

Balance school and workThere are a couple ways that many people find that school and work go together well. First, look for an employer that offers tuition reimbursement. This is an attractive recruiting and retention tool for employers – they help support your education goals, pay for part of it, and they get an educated employee in the process. You get help paying for college. It is a win-win. The right part-time job could provide not only tuition reimbursement opportunities, but is also a chance to secure a future internship with that company, or participate in a training program, or learn additional skills beyond what is required in the part-time job. In other words: Take advantage of the job opportunity to learn new soft skills and real-life work experiences that future employers will love.  Learn about operations, management, marketing, distribution, merchandising, sales, e-commerce, technology, how the company uses data and analytics, and more.

Read: 10 companies that offer tuition reimbursement to part-time employees

Another way to balance school and work is to find a freelance job. Ideally you’ll find something that fits your skill set and can help launch your career, but even driving for Lyft or Uber can offer you more financial stability with a schedule that is totally controlled by you. Some example of freelance job titles include:

The bottom line of work vs. school

Almost all recent grads go through a phase when they would give anything to go back to college, but life as a working person doesn’t usually turn out to be as bad as they had expected it to be. Without the restraints that come with life as a student, adults in the working world have more time to themselves, more room to explore, and more opportunities available to them. While schooling should not be underestimated, recent grads and those soon to graduate shouldn’t worry themselves over the transition into the working world. The benefits might not always outweigh the losses, but professional life can be awfully great.

Contributions from LiveCareer, which connects job seekers of all experience levels and career categories to all the tools, resources, and insider tips needed to win the job. 

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