Struggles of a Working College Student

I write this post while sitting at a local bar devouring some buffalo wings with a cold mug filled with a local brew waiting to take the train home after classes. I guess one could sum this up as ‘#CollegeLife.’ It’s the most exciting time in a young adult’s life. You’re living on your own surrounded by a community of peers your age, with parties every weekend and exciting career-developing opportunities at every turn. Your school meals are paid for, and mom has packed you enough Easy Mac to last a zombie apocalypse “just in case.” Your major obligations include keeping your grades up, making sure you don’t forget your flip-flops when you take a shower and attending your R.A held monthly meetings to avoid being hunted down. You get to live on your own terms and “find yourself” along the way. By the end of your four years, you’ve become a well-rounded, culturally diverse, mature adult with a clear idea of your life goals and a solidified career in something you love, with memories and friends that will last a lifetime. Right?

Welllllllllll ….

This may be a very accurate description for most students and if that sounds like you, right-on! I envy you immensely and respect you 100%, having the skill to healthily balance schoolwork and keg-stands is one that takes a lot of self-will and late night cram study sessions to figure out. 

For some (myself included) we don’t get that ideal college experience. Our university years are spent working full-time to pay for our over-priced apartment rent, school books and loan repayments. All while maintaining a scholarship required GPA and trying to squeeze in time for some out-of-work interpersonal relationships, all before spending our rare downtime trying to network ourselves in the professional world so we can PRAY to get a job as soon as graduation comes. (Which is in 6 months, mind you! Where did my first three years go?!) All of this so we’ll never have to hear the words “Can you pick up another table?” again. Oh, and yes we still need to eat and sleep like any functioning human being.

Suddenly the infamous 2007 Britney meltdown doesn’t seem so psychopathic as we had once thought.

So what advice do I have for those who can relate to my mildly complain-y rant? Well, you know (or will soon) that it is tough. Running off of 4 hours of sleep with only coffee and instant oatmeal while looking like an acceptable form of society isn’t the easiest thing to do.

You will get pissed, and that’s okay

There’s almost nothing worse than scrolling through your Instagram feed after a 13 hour work shift to see pictures of all your newly turned 21 besties and their roommates rocking their new NYX contour palettes at the club, hashtagging their way to 200 ‘likes’ while you’re sitting on the train wondering what that weird stain is on your pants and what you did to deserve the 11% tip at table 14.

You fall into self-pity, and suddenly the world is ending:

Why am I working my life away so that I can afford to go to school and get a job so I can CONTINUE working?! I don’t want to work anymore; I just want a roommate to share dresses with. Not that I’d ever get to wear them .. BUT STILL. Ugh, I’m never going to have a ‘forever’ college friend. Wait, what if I don’t have enough friends for a bridal party? Let alone, how am I even going to find a husband??? OMG, I’m going to become a single cat lady… I’m allergic to cats though… I’m just gonna be alone with 45 turtles. I will become a turtle lady. Okay, there’s a solution, maybe I should cut down hours and earn money another way. *Googles how much you can sell a kidney for on the black market* Hm, this could be a possibility. No, Jesus, get your head straight, you can’t just sell your organs. BUT I JUST WANT A CONTOUR PALETTE.

Hey you know, mild inner dialogue style mental breakdowns are okay from time to time. You’re not alone.

Schedule and plan ahead.

It’s all about scheduling. I know it sounds easier said than done, but there are ways. Trust me.

First things first. Take advantage of colored highlighters/pens and organize your planner, even if you have an elephant-like memory. As soon as you get your work schedule, write it down. Find out when your first test is? Write it down. Have a meeting? Yup, write it down. It will help you have a visual representation of your day making things easier to plan.

Always stay on top of your assigned class registration times. Setting up a reliable schedule is the first step of a more relaxed semester. As a commuter I do everything it takes to make sure my classes are condensed to 2 – 3 days, are back to back, and do not start too early in the morning. This semester, for example, I’m on campus two days a week from 2:30 – 5:30 and I’m taking two classes online. Since I have a hard time getting work done at home, I go to campus a few hours early or stay a few hours late these days to get my online classes done while on campus.

Also, if your work allows you to be flexible with hours or if you work in a restaurant, try and keep your shifts to the afternoon/night. I know this is a bit of a buzzkill but building your resume is one of the best things you can do, and internships or volunteering are the best ways to do it. Typically these positions fall in the 9 – 5 category, so having a few mornings off a week will help make you more available for these opportunities.

Don’t do it alone

Having a support system will be your number one reason for succeeding these difficult years. You can’t have your friends or family do your school work or go to work for you, but they can help in other ways. Learn to accept it. This was difficult for me, I am a stubborn individual and accepting that you cannot do it all was one of the hardest yet most important lessons I could have learned. Having a supportive family and boyfriend (along with his whole amazing family) helped me realize that although at times I feel like there will be no light at the end of this long dark tunnel, there absolutely is; and those around you cant wait for you to reach it just as much as you.

Also, make connections at school! There are a lot of students that are going through the same thing. I know I went on and on about how its hard to find time for yourself but try and connect with some other students on your campus. Chances are you can find a few minutes before or after class to grab a coffee or a quick lunch with a fellow student to build on-campus relationships, even if you can’t commit to going out every weekend. It’s nice to have a handful of friendly faces to see as you’re walking around campus.

Remember, this WILL pay off

Think of it as biking up a really steep hill. If you pedal hard now and don’t stop, soon enough you’ll be able to coast down the other side. 

Your hard work will not go unnoticed. When it comes to working in the “real world,” you will already have the hardest part down, managing your time and developing a strong work ethic. Just take a deep breath and remember how far you’ve come. It can only go up from here. 

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