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Balancing Work and School

About half of all full-time college students have jobs outside of school. This number jumps to 80% when it comes to part-time students. One study showed that 70% of college students are stressed about finances.[1] With work, school, activities, and friends all demanding attention, many students struggle with balancing and prioritizing the different areas of their lives.

We know that high levels of stress hurt our mental health. With the growing rates of anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns being seen on campuses across the country in mind, here are some questions you can ask yourself to support your mental health while working and staying in school.

How many hours do I need to work?

School administrators recommend that students ideally work 10-15 hours per week. For full-time students, this leaves them adequate time to spend in class and on assignments, while exploring interests and building relationships.

For the students responsible for their own finances or even those of their families, 10-15 hours per week is often not enough. If this is the case, some options include choosing online classes that allow for greater flexibility, working with your advisors and professors to strategically schedule classes and assignments around your outside obligations, and applying for grants, scholarships, or stipends through your school or other organizations. Many of these can be found online and have relatively simple application processes.

How does my job relate to my schoolwork or future career?

Internships are a great opportunity to network, get experience, and learn more about your interests. While a paid internship that will count toward your credit hours is ideal, many internships are unpaid. You should check with your college or university, as some offer stipends for students working unpaid internships. Aside from opportunities directly related to your studies, you can still find ways to build skills in any workplace. You could focus on improving your leadership skills, time management skills, or interpersonal relationship skills. All of these add valuable experience that you can call on and refer to in your future. You can even use these skills to better manage other areas of your life right now.

Am I making time for myself and my basic needs?

College is the first real taste of independence for a lot of people. This means that many of the decisions that were once made for you or built into your days are now up to you. Your basic needs- getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and exercising-often get lost or lose priority while you're balancing work, school, and socializing. Ignoring your physical and mental health can have serious consequences, especially for those with a history of mental health problems. Instead of shifting away from basic healthy practices, try to find strategies to use your time most effectively. This could include learning to say no to new commitments and blocking time specifically for taking care of yourself.

What can I do when I am feeling overwhelmed?

Feeling overloaded can seriously damage your mind and body, making you more vulnerable to physical and mental health problems. Additionally, chronic stress keeps you from being your best self. While stress is inevitable, and not inherently bad, it's important to find healthy ways to deal with it. Some things you can do when you're feeling overwhelmed include:

  • Going for a walk
  • Calling a friend
  • Deep breathing (try these techniques)
  • Coloring (check out some free printables here or color on your phone/tablet with a free app like Recolor)
  • Simply taking a shower.

After stepping away to take care of yourself, you can return feeling calmer or with a different perspective.

If you feel like you are constantly overwhelmed, you may want to look out for other common symptoms of mental health disorders. This includes changes in energy, sleep, or appetite, loss of interest or pleasure in activities, difficulty concentrating, and feeling sad, empty, hopeless, worthless, or guilty. If you are experiencing these additional symptoms, you may want to take a mental health screen, talk to your doctor, or reach out to your campus’ mental health services. Getting support for your mental health will empower you to feel better and to accomplish and enjoy the things you do.

If you have thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. 

Learn more about the mental health issues facing college students