College Students Shouldn’t Work Exclusively to Graduate
A college degree should be accessible, affordable, and free to those in need.
Last week, I wrote about overworking myself in college to dodge student debt. During my undergraduate career, I constantly told myself I was different, that I’d rise above the socioeconomic class I was born into with a college degree. I concluded that my story isn’t that different after all. Despite the unemployed recent college graduate narrative commonly seen in media, there are plenty of other overworked students — even ones working more hours than I did.
The essay was well-received by The Billfold’s community and among my own personal platform. A friend, Alaina Leary, approached me about how much she related to the piece. She came from a similar financial background and worked to pay for her program. Additionally, she mentioned her mother was disabled and her family’s EFC (Expected Family Contribution) was $0. I didn’t mention it in the original piece, but my mother was also unable to work because of her disability.
Another friend, Dylan Sprayberry, worked a weekly average of 48 hours in college — about 18 hours more than me. He also commuted an hour away from campus and rarely had a day off from both work and school. Unfortunately, he graduated with approximately $62,000 worth of loan debt, which covered two years of state college and three years of county college.
Conversely, once I sent my essay to another friend, Jersey Lovera, he quickly replied, “only 8k?!” Although we participated in the same scholarship program, he walked away with over $35,000 in student debt, including his Master’s program at NYU. While he worked only one job on campus, he wishes he would’ve worked harder in college. After I told him I’d sacrificed my social life to work, he reassured me that he didn’t stay connected with some of his close college friends.
In a comment, Hildegerd Haugen brought up an important point: “not everybody can take on this.” I will never truly understand the privilege of overcoming a stressful, demanding workload. I know the strategies I took to minimize debt aren’t available or accessible to everyone. I want college to be accessible, supportive and affordable (preferably free) for those in need.
Students shouldn’t feel obligated to take on multiple jobs exclusively to graduate. If you’re able to balance your work with your studies and other priorities, working can be a great experience as an undergraduate. I loved working at my campus library. I memorized shelfs and sections to better serve students looking for certain topics, like Shakespeare or molecular biology. In class, my professors stressed my resourcefulness to my peers — that I’d be at the circulation desk certain mornings to help navigate the library.
However, some of my other jobs weren’t as enjoyable and sometimes were unbearable. Altogether, my ambition to pay for college outweighed my studies. Schoolwork became a supplemental priority behind work. Thankfully, my grades didn’t drop, but they weren’t the best they could’ve been in hindsight. On many occasions, I even compromised my mental health. I’ve suffered from anxiety nearly my entire life, but it wasn’t until months after graduation where I sought bimonthly counseling.
Again, I was lucky enough to graduate. Others faced with similar situations are less likely to graduate. I also had the resources to apply to college. Many in financial need might not have even graduated from high school. According to NJ.com, my alma matter — Ocean City High School — has about a 97 percent graduation rate. Newark Vocational High School, which some of my classmates in the same state scholarship program attended, has a 64 percent graduation rate.
I concluded my last piece acknowledging that I wasn’t as different as I hoped to be, in terms of graduating college without debt. I’ll conclude this one by recognizing the differences that allowed me to go to college and work my way through.
Support The Billfold