All work and no play

Róisín Phelan

Students have to juggle work, studies and home life during their time in third level education. Credit: Irish Independent

When you picture a ‘student lifestyle’, the appeal of  nights out, student accommodation and freedom springs to mind, but behind the scenes this ‘freedom’ comes at a cost.

According to the Irish Examiner, nearly 70 per cent of students work part time to fund their third level education and everyday expenses.

For many students the burden of working part-time and doing well in college is tough to balance. Unknowingly to themselves, the balancing act of college and part-time work becomes less of a refined art and more of a juggling act where assignments, lectures and study fly aimlessly above head, waiting for the chance to fall apart.

For Aisling Murray, a student at Marino Institute of Education, this sensation is all too familiar.

“Juggling commuting 20 hours a week, being in lectures and placement for 21 hours a week and working, give or take 25 hours a week at the weekends, is really tough going,” she told The College View.

Costs for students vary in type and amount but they exist in some form for all students. For students that commute like Murray, who takes four buses a day to get from Dublin to Wicklow, there is a continuous cost that has to be paid for somehow. This cost led Murray to take a part-time job in a bar.

Although the late night shifts enable her to earn just enough money to cover her daily expenses, such as her transport costs, they unfortunately don’t pay for as much as one might expect.

Maeve Gallagher, a DCU student, has to battle the cost of accommodation in Dublin alongside the cost of fees and social expenses. For Gallagher, this cost forced her to work over 30 hours a week last semester.

“It probably nearly killed me and I definitely burned myself out come summer,” she explained.

“My focus was too much on the money I was earning to pay for college and not enough of my time was spent actually going to college. It’s a massive contradiction,” she added.

In many cases fitting in part-time work means sacrificing time for recreational activities such as nights out and society events.

“I turned down a lot of society events and trips to be able to work which limited my engagement in student life,” Gallagher explained. She said this lead to feelings of isolation.

The ultimate aim is to find the perfect balance between work and college. Working enough to afford college but not working so much as to lose the point of it.

Lucien Waugh-Daly, a DCU student, has found the key to balance in finding the right job. He said that his part-time job on campus is as “convenient as you can get” and means that he can “make it from a lecture to a work shift in minutes.” Crediting the generous flexibility of his workplace, he has been able to still enjoy society activities and involvement.

Although, this sort of convenience is rare, Waugh-Daly raised the point that having to balance work and college has forced him to increase his productivity.

“I’ve started to value my free time outside of class and work a lot more,” he added.

Melanie Mynhart, a Carlow Institute of Technology student, agreed with this sentiment saying: “I feel like I work better under these pressures at times, but it is very tough juggling it all.”

This opinion is reflected in a study done by The National Centre for Education Statistics. It found that on average students who worked one to 15 hours per week got better results than students who didn’t.

It may be theorised that these better results are a consequence of many things, with the most important being the relief of having a steady reputable income. As well as the experience and skills that are learned in the workplace, which may not be taught in college.

Working under pressure and under the rule of management is an example of one of these claims, both valuable skills that will benefit  students when they take part in internships or pursue careers after their degree.

Marita Burke, a Carlow College student felt that working in a petrol station has made her more personable and said, “I feel like working and meeting the public has actually made me a confident person and I could keep a conversation going about the weather all day.”

Though the benefits of working part-time are clear, they do not extinguish the stress it puts on students who are already attending lectures and working on assignments and exams.

Aoife Gawley, primary teaching student described how the looming stress felt.

“It’s definitely stressful because every time I’m at work I’m thinking of all the work I could be doing for my course.”

Working part-time has its benefits, yet working part-time on top of coursework is stressful. At the end of the day, for most students these facts have no impact on whether they work part-time or not. Whether students like it or not, if they want to go to college, they have to earn money.

DCU student Niamh Dunne put this fact simply.

“Like the majority of students, not working is not an option for me.”

Whether part-time work and college work are balanced is a priority that falls far behind the need for a sustainable income. As tough as this can be, it’s the reality that students face.

Róisín Phelan

Image Credit: Irish Independent