The Balancing Act

Credited to

Credited to

Anessa Gilbert

Note: This is the first of two works about holding down a job as a college student.

College has not been easy. 

As a working student, I have faced challenges while trying to earn my degree. From my first year, which included the start of COVID-19 to living on my own by my second year, college has always been a priority. 

However, once I had to live by myself, rent was my No.1 focus. That meant I had to secure a job alongside my classes. It was not easy. In three years, I have had five different jobs, often in retail. The reason being that retail always needed workers.  They’re easy to apply for, and the jobs aren’t hard – until they became hard. In most of them, I could not balance my school and work schedules. Or, the pay was not enough for my bills. At every job interview, I said that I am a student and need homework time. Every one of my past employers promised to respect that but broke those promises every time.

A year ago, I decided to take a semester-long break. I was burnt out and had zero passion for school. Day after day, I was exhausted from work. Being on my feet for an entire shift and dealing with all sorts of customers sapped my strength. Then, I had to come home very late and try to get my homework done. I had nothing left to give. There were times when I seriously considered dropping out of college, but I had already come so far. I knew I couldn’t quit. Taking a break proved beneficial. I secured a different job and moved to a much nicer apartment. Currently, I am a receptionist. 

At first, I was scared that it would be like other jobs where the stress would follow me home and my mind would be unable to focus on anything else. Instead, it was drastically different. My workload was the lightest it has ever been. Moreover, I had time for homework while at my job! Before this, my college grades were mediocre. Now, they’ve improved. I have more time to complete assignments way before the due date, and my motivation is better than ever.

Make no mistake. My receptionist job isn’t perfect. It has nothing to do with my journalism major. Also, I’m limited to taking most of my IUS classes online, because I work most evenings when many in-person classes occur.  

But college won’t last forever. I won’t be a receptionist forever, either.  

People have assumptions about my life. Most people think I live at home with my parents and that everything I have is from my parents. That couldn’t be more wrong. Being the first in my family to graduate high school and soon college, it was I who got here. Taxes, FAFSA, bills, insurance, and budgeting – I learned all that myself. At summer orientation before college, they spoke of work and school balance. They said if you are a full-time student, you should not work over 12 hours a week. I was stunned. That little work will never pay rent in this economy. I knew I had more roadblocks and had to work harder. 

No one’s college career is identical to that of someone else. Neither are their struggles with life. What matters is how we balance it. Find what works for you, even if you have to start over again.

Here’s another first-person piece about college students who work lots of hours off-campus.