Balancing work, studies

About three-quarters of American undergraduates work while enrolled in college.

Working while studying can build life skills, boost career goals and provide other positive benefits; however, many experts warn that too much work can be detrimental to academic goals.

How many hours of work is the optimum number for the typical undergrad?

According to the May 2006 report from the American Council on Education (ONLINE @, the answer is “15 or fewer hours per week — ideally on campus or in a position related to one’s academic interests.”

WSU undergrads who work on campus (through work-study programs or as student hourly workers) typically work 12 to 15 hours weekly, said Patty Winder, student employment coordinator. Winder has found that, for most students, more than 20 working hours per week is too much.

“With more than 20 hours, there is a risk of negatively impacting the student’s academic progress, particularly if the student is fulltime,” she said. “The impact depends on the student, the number of credits taken and the complexity of the coursework.”

According to the ACE report, students have found that working limits their class schedules, the number of classes they take, class choice and access to facilities. More work hours increases the significance of those academic obstacles. 

Even with those difficulties, working has a minimal impact on grade-point average. The ACE report notes that “hours worked do not always hurt academic performance.”  Students who worked less than 20 hours weekly earned an average 2.94 GPA, which is greater than the GPA of 2.91 earned by students who did not work at all.

Students who worked 21 to 34 hours earned a 2.84, and students who worked 35 or more hours had a 2.78.

Despite possible academic liabilities, students do have good reasons for working beyond the need to finance their educations, Winder said. Long-term benefits of student employment include:

• valuable learning experiences

• improved organizational skills

• increased sense of connectedness to the university and community

• established work history

• transferable job skills

• networking opportunities

Specific information about the number of WSU students employed off campus is not available.

Winder estimated that several thousand undergraduates work off campus for private companies and agencies of all kinds. In addition, about 7,000 students on the Pullman campus were employed through work-study programs or as student hourly workers during the 2005-2006 academic year, she said.

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