In the years of university studies, most undergraduates would undoubtedly be faced with the following decision: Should you work while studying?
The answer is… It really depends. But if you have to take advice from a graduating student, the wisest move is about making your time count. Just don’t look back at your past (or resume) and wish you were on internships or took on part-time jobs more.
I did a mixture of both internships and part-time jobs while studying, here are some questions I’d have considered before making my decision.
What Are Your Existing Commitments Like?
What do you have this semester? First thing that’ll come to mind is your class schedule. Do you have a 4 or 5 days of school each week? With a packed schedule, you’ll find it harder to fit in a part-time job or an internship.
Tip: if you wish to work while studying, plan your timetable wisely next semester for a 2 or 3 days of class. Usually, students from second year and up have more flexibility to plan their schedules. Whatever job you apply for, they tend to require at least one or two days of commitment per week, so for this arrangement to happen, you’ll need a less packed timetable.
Beyond school, think about your other commitments, such as school clubs, hall activities, side hustles, or competitions. Those who already have a current involvement may find it hard to carve out additional time for work.
And even if you can, you might not have the headspace for it. ‘Tab-switching’ from school to work, then your hall responsibilities, can send your brain to overdrive. Aka burnout. But anecdotal evidence show that school alone can cause burnout so… you pick your poison.
Lastly, consider your social commitments.
How much time do you spend with your family and friends each week? Work will take up a chunk of your time, so that sacrifice has to come from somewhere. For reference, see college triangle below.
This triangle is really be a square for those who choose to work during college. And if you are attached, you should probably refer to a five-sided polygon instead.
Why Do You Want To Work?
Your next question: are you looking for a part-time job or an internship? Beneath that, the real decision to make is between income and experience.
Experience: For those seeking for the experience, the toughest part will be seeking for a part-time internship and juggling your commitments. Larger companies are more reluctant to hire an intern who only comes in two to three days a week, so you might have better luck with start-ups.
A quick Google search for ‘part-time internships’ will return a handful of job postings. It’s not much, but enough to get you started, ranging from sales and marketing to business development.
Money: If you need the cash, having a part-time job seems to be the answer. Common options are retail, F&B jobs or tuition. You’ll easily find a stint, especially for the first two options. But it can be physically tiring to stand for long hours, then return home to complete your tutorials. Most part-time positions require you to work 2 to 3 times a week too, which is why some people prefer teaching tuition instead.
The trade-off is that you could have spent this extra time building up your CV at an internship. Companies want to see other qualifications apart from a degree certificate, that explains why students are collecting internships like badges. But it doesn’t mean you’ve to go for an internship during the semester. If you wish to improve your employment opportunities, an internship can still be done during the holidays.
Experience AND Money: The best-case scenario is that you get a well-paid part-time internship. Considering how elusive that is, you have few other options.
You can try converting your summer internship into a part-time stint. It’s the onboarding and training processes at the beginning that keeps your supervisor busy, so they might be keen to have you on a part-time basis once you’ve learnt the ropes. But the downside for this is that you will be learning less – it’s unlikely that you will be given new responsibilities once you switch to part-time.
Even if that’s not possible, stay in touch with your mentors. The next time they need extra manpower for an upcoming project, they might contact you for help. Companies that tap on contractors or freelancers often tend to be more open to such arrangements with their ex-interns too.
Alternatively, you can look for a remote internship. Yes, the chances of finding one is very slim. But it is not impossible, it depends on the timing and the industry you wish to be in. For instance, I had a remote internship that did business development and marketing. I also almost accepted another remote internship that did public relations and content.
Don’t bank all your hopes on finding a remote internship. But if you luck out, it can be greatly advantageous, in terms of your busy schedule and for experience. Spend more time on job portals, who knows, you’ll might eventually find one.
How Badly Do You Want It?
As you can see, it is possible to have your cake and eat it too, but you have to be prepared for 6- or 7-day work weeks where the daytime is spent in class or work, while you rush out assignments or tutorial prep at night, and other sacrifices. At the end of the day, it all boils down to your priorities and how hard you are willing to work for it.
There’s no wrong answer, be it to to actively pursue internship opportunities, to generate some income or to participate actively in university life. Even if you choose to wholly focus on your studies, it’s completely fine too. After all, it’s the last few years that you’ll be as a student.
Listen to our podcast, where we have in-depth discussions on finance topics that matter to you.