“Where there is a will, there is a way. If there is a chance in a million that you can do something, anything, to keep what you want from ending, do it. Pry the door open or, if need be, wedge your foot in that door and keep it open.”
– Pauline Kael, American film critic
Will and intent are powerful factors required to realise your education and career goals.
Juggling university studies with full or part-time employment may seem challenging, but it has become the norm for most college students today. Close to 70% of all university students work while enrolled (see… you are not alone!). Among those ambitious students, more than half log 15 to 35 hours of work per week1.
What is the motivation for balancing work and study?
The first and most obvious reason is the cost of education. Many students take on part-time jobs to defray the cost of their education. Statistically, the average student debt for a Singaporean student studying at a local university is $20,000 – $25,000. Working during university studies increases the chances of a student graduating debt-free.
Working a part-time job while in college can help students gain valuable work experience for their resumes, help cover personal expenses, and supplement financial aid to reduce overall student debt. But working while in university may also be a predictor of future financial success. In many cases, the more you work now while in college, the more you may earn later in your career.
“The more you work during your first year of college, the more you earn after college,” according to Daniel Douglas, who co-authored the 2019 Rutgers Education and Employment Research Center paper on the topic2.
“Working students pursuing a degree and earning between $5,000 and $15,000 in their first year of college saw an average, post-college earnings bump of $4,532. In other words, when they left the university—with or without a degree—they made an average of $4,532 more than their classmates who did not work in college. The students who earned the most while going to school received the biggest returns later.”
How Much Working Students Earned During Their First Year of University2
Average Annual Earnings Increase After University (Students Pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree)
$1 - $5,000
$5,000 - $15,000
$15,000 - $25,000
What are the drivers for this correlation of employment during college with future career earnings? There are several explanations:
- Students who balance work and school may go on to have higher earnings because they have a longer, more robust CV or resume and a stronger social network.
- These working students develop career skills early. According to Douglas, “if you’re working during college, you’re gaining important work skills that will be valued by future employers. You know about showing up on time, following directions given by a supervisor, and being diligent in your duties.”
A US Department of Education report showed similar findings3. It noted that students who work fifteen to twenty hours per week, especially on campus, tend to have better outcomes than those who do not work while in college.
Some universities, such as Williams College in Massachusetts set the expectation that students will work while in school, outlining the expectations that students earn US$1,500 over the summer break and US$2,700 during the school year through campus jobs5.
“We frame the earnings expectation as a real opportunity for students on campus,” says Ashely Bianchi, director of financial aid at Williams College. “Working on campus can be a great opportunity for students to understand what a college is and how it works. Every college out there runs a small city within their realm, so your interests can be met in so many ways.”
Fortunately, many universities in Singapore and across Asia Pacific are recognising the challenges faced by their working students and have implemented changes to improve the educational experience for this growing segment of the university population.
Some schools are making significant changes to accommodate the needs of working students.
- More classes are scheduled at night and on weekends to fit typical work schedules
- Schools are offering year-round start dates that give more flexibility to professionals needing to account for busier seasonal work periods
- Counselling and academic advisory services are available during early morning, evening, and weekend hours so that time away from work can be minimised
No change accommodates working students more than the accessibility of online learning. Online access gives students in the workforce the opportunity to pursue their education from anywhere according to their work schedules. Instead of building a class schedule around required work hours, working students can better partition their workday with their school day.
Even before the pandemic forced many universities to switch to online classes, Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS)began offering a full assortment of virtual learning tools, interactive activities, and other resources designed to give working students the greatest degree of flexibility.
All SUSS online courses can be accessed via a simple Learning Management System. Online learning materials are provided for each course, including eTextbooks and modular or episodic lectures.
“As a pioneer in online learning, our expanding digital learning infrastructure has enabled our students to pursue learning at their own pace, anytime, anywhere, to meet evolving knowledge and skills needs of the future. Using our learning aids, which range from interactive study guides, e-textbooks, chunked lectures and mobile BackPack, anyone can attain higher education at SUSS with greater ease while balancing personal, work and family commitments,” said Professor Cheong Hee Kiat, President of SUSS4.
But universities like SUSS also recognise that online access is only part of the solution: collaboration and peer engagement are key to a complete learning experience. SUSS students benefit from a variety of learning activities to build their knowledge base and develop real-world skills. Online activities include discussion groups, quizzes, and group assignments.
To support the growing working student population, universities with a high enrollment of working adults must also offer a wide array of certificate and degree options. SUSS offers a choice of learning pathways that include:
- Comprehensive, multi-disciplinary range of professional, modular or Skillsfuture courses to prepare students for priority and growth sectors in Singapore’s economy
- Graduate certificates providing students with specialised knowledge and skills to stay industry-relevant
- Wide range of part-time undergraduate as well as postgraduate programmes that are flexible and stackable
One SUSS student noted, “If you are a student with a job, you need the flexibility to build your curriculum around your schedule, your unique circumstances, and your specific career goals. The traditional approach of a full-time student engaged entirely in classroom studies just does not align with many students’ realities.”
If you are planning to be a working university student, one of your priorities is no doubt to bridge your academic learning with your real-life work experience. Forward-thinking colleges and universities recognize this and are developing innovative programs that blend classroom and online learning with on-the-job experiences.
At SUSS, work-study innovation can be seen in three programme offerings.
The first is the university’s Work Attachment (WA) Programme. Students enrolled in a full-time programme at SUSS, must complete a WA as part of their graduation requirements. The WA helps students make connections between their academic studies and the realities and requirements of the working world through a supervised work placement with a host organisation for a duration of at least 24 weeks.
The second SUSS initiative offering experiential career learning is the Internship Programme. Internships offer full-time or part-time, or temporary work that students participate in to gather work experience, acquire work-related skills, earn spending money, and build their contacts. Many employers these days consider not only student’s educational qualifications but also their professional background during hiring. You should have the appropriate educational background as well as relevant work experience. Students are strongly encouraged to do internships to strengthen their professional profile.
Unlike the WA, internships are not a graduation requirement. However, internships have moved from being viewed as optional to essential. In 2021, 47.6% of Singapore students and graduates had undertaken formal internships with an employer and more than 12% of students had completed two or more internships with a prospective employer6.
“My advice for young people is, study what you love and intern in what you want to do. And I think it’s okay to pivot as many times as you need to.” – Eva Chen, Fashion Editor at Instagram
The third, and by far most immersive blend of work and study at SUSS is the range of Entrepreneurship Programmes.Students who have an idea that can potentially grow into a business or can help others in society are fostered by SUSS’ entrepreneurship and start-up programmes that let them evaluate and develop their proposals in the Singapore economy. The programmes have supported the development of more than 20 new businesses by more than 40 entrepreneurs. These programmes include the Alibaba Cloud- SUSS Entrepreneurship Programme, Venture Builder Traineeship Programme, and SUSS Agri-preneur Incubation Programme.
Programmes such as these recognise both the need and desire for university students to blend their learning experience with on-the-job experience.
So, if you are a student who is balancing work with studies, here is the good news:
- You are not alone. You are now part of the majority of college students working through college
- There are long-term benefits. Your work experience will grow your professional contacts, bolster your resume, and potentially predict stronger earnings in your future
- Innovative colleges and universities are catering to your unique needs with more flexible schedules, the freedom of online access, more diversified learning paths, and with some like SUSS providing programmes that fully connect your work with your education through work attachment, internships, and entrepreneurship programmes.
Balancing a job and university education is no easy task. Experts recommend that students who are balancing both work and school to pace themselves, evaluate their optimal load at regular intervals, rely upon the many university support services now available to them, and take pride in the fact that they represent the role model of learning for life.
“Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.” – Mahatma Gandhi
You have the will!
- Carnevale, Anthony P., et al. “Learning While Earning: The New Normal - CEW Georgetown.” CEW Georgetown, cew.georgetown.edu, 7 May 2020, https://cew.georgetown.edu/cew-reports/workinglearners.
- Douglas, Daniel, and Paul Attewell. “Study: Working During College Leads to Higher Earnings Later | Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations.” Study: Working During College Leads to Higher Earnings Later | Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations, smlr.rutgers.edu, 22 May 2019, https://smlr.rutgers.edu/news-events/smlr-news/study-working-during-college-leads-higher-earnings-later.
- “Percentage of 16- to 64-Year-Old Undergraduate Students Who Were Employed, by Attendance Status, Hours Worked per Week, and Selected Characteristics: 2010, 2015, and 2020.” Percentage of 16- to 64-Year-Old Undergraduate Students Who Were Employed, by Attendance Status, Hours Worked per Week, and Selected Characteristics: 2010, 2015, and 2020, nces.ed.gov, Sept. 2021, https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d21/tables/dt21_503.40.asp.
- Cheong, Hee Kiat. “President’s Message | SUSS.” President’s Message, www.suss.edu.sg, https://www.suss.edu.sg/about-suss/who-we-are/presidents-message. Accessed 28 June 2022.
- Kerr, Emma. “Weighing the Pros and Cons of Working While in College | Paying for College | US News.” US News & World Report, www.usnews.com, 30 Dec. 2020, https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/paying-for-college/articles/weighing-the-pros-and-cons-of-working-while-in-college.
- Hirschmann, R. “Singapore: Formal Internship Takers among Graduates 2021 | Statista.” Statista, www.statista.com, 17 May 2022, https://www.statista.com/statistics/1168876/singapore-formal-internship-takers-among-graduates.