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Balancing study and part-time work

Juggling undergraduate study with a part-time job is demanding, so how do you set about getting the right balance between your work, academic and social commitments?
The best way to achieve a work/study/life balance is to be ruthless about organising your time.

Many students need to earn money from part-time work to support themselves while they complete their degrees, which is why the majority of universities have job shops or advertise part-time work through their careers services. And, reassuringly, undertaking part-time jobs while you study will actively benefit your graduate career prospects. Here are our tips on how to balance the demands of part-time work with the rest of your life.

Prioritise the important stuff

At university, there are lots of potential calls on your time: studying, a huge array of student societies to get involved in, sporting activities, socialising with friends, the need to earn money, foreign travel during the holidays. Work out what is most important to you and rank them. Start with the most important: is it getting good grades? Pursuing a new interest through student societies? Spending time with friends? Or making your loan stretch further?

Armed with this list, you can decide how much time you want (or need) to devote to each activity. Only you know, for example, the state of your finances. It may be that you can afford to complete part-time work (or an internship) during the holidays and concentrate on your studies and socialising during term time. Or you may want to work during term time, but limit it to one or two shifts a week in order to fit in rugby practice and a game once a week on top of your studies.

Reflect on your priorities regularly and adjust accordingly. In the run up to exams, for instance, you’ll probably find yourself cutting down on your other commitments. Whatever you decide, be realistic about what is achievable and schedule in some downtime.

Plan, plan, plan

Next, organise your time so that your priorities don’t suffer. Use an app on your phone (or a paper diary and wall calendar if that works better for you) to schedule in your commitments: important lectures and assignment deadlines, dates and times you have agreed to work and key social events. Take a look at your entire week and plan in the time to study and relax around them.

It may not be easy if you take up zero-hour contract work, but try to gain a structured work pattern so that you can get into a routine and don’t agree to work at a time when you have lectures or tutorials scheduled. Think also about the time of day when you are most productive, awake and alert – some people are morning larks while others are night owls – and try to schedule what is most important to you then.

Keep everyone informed

It's inevitable that there will be times when your studies need to take precedence over part-time work. If you work regular times, give your employer as much notice as possible that you will need more time during this period and try to negotiate a solution.

University staff also appreciate fully that money is an issue and recognise that students need to work. If you do find yourself struggling to produce coursework on time seek advice and support as early as you can from your tutor. Deadlines can be extended in exceptional circumstances.

Keep a record of your part-time jobs for your CV

Recruiters love students with part-time work on their CV. Holding down a part-time job will demonstrate time management, a strong work ethic , the ability to be proactive and indicate that you carry through on your commitments. All part-time jobs will give you exposure to the working world and develop your interpersonal skills. And specific part-time jobs will develop particular skills: customer-facing part-time work will give you insight into client management, for example.

Periodically, note down any skills and knowledge you have used in your part-time job (for example, teamwork, organisation, customer service, understanding new systems) and any achievements (for example, good feedback from your manager or customers or training new members of staff). Take a note of any numbers (for example, how many customers you might serve in a day). You can use these to really make the most of your part-time work on your CV.

Download graduate and internship CVs here to see how you can write up your experience.

Take care of yourself

Be realistic about what you can do and don’t promise something you can’t deliver, or people will be less sympathetic to your needs another time. You can rush around from pillar to post for so long but eventually you need to get enough sleep. There are only 24 hours in a day and seven days in a week and you need time to unwind and relax. In the end, your health is the most important thing.

If you are still concerned, talk to student services/student support at your university as specially trained advisers can often give you financial advice, from ways to budget to dealing with personal debt. They may present options that you didn’t know about.

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