The work-life-uni balance

Many people get a job whilst at uni to help pay for their living costs, their travel home or nights out. A lot of people are able to successfully juggle their responsibilities and keep a healthy work-life-uni balance. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily easy to do. From the difficulties of finding a job, through to keeping up with grades around your shifts – it’s all a challenge. Working whilst in study is something that you should ensure that you are well informed about before making a decision.

Do not assume that your uni town has lots of jobs that you can just walk right in to.
A lot of students assume that finding a job will be easy, once they reach their uni town. Many plan their finances around the prospect of a job: “Well, I’m buying a car with my loan and then I’m going to get a job to pay everything else...” More often than not, that plan ends up in tatters and that student ends up in trouble financially.

My advice? Start looking for a job as soon as you’ve made a decision on where you’re going to live, and be prepared to make the trip to and from there and home to take interviews, even before term has started, as restricting yourself to ‘only applying when you’re there to save on travel’ will reduce your chances massively. Besides, you’re going to get used to making the home-uni trip over the next three years. May as well start early.

Getting a jump on the flood of applications that will arrive in September from those that aren’t as organized will give you a great advantage.

Finding a job isn’t easy
What experience do you have?”

Well, none… but I’m willing to work, I’m punctual and I’m really passionate about your business…”

The sad thing in this situation is that your prospective employer most likely switched off at ‘none’, and is unwilling to give you a chance. In the current economical climate, employers are becoming less and less likely to want to train someone when they can hire someone that already knows what they’re doing. The problem here is, how are you supposed to get any experience if no one is willing to give you a job?

One option is to spend the summer before you start your first year, or the year which you’ll be looking for a job, taking part in voluntary work or experience placements. These are unpaid, more often than not, and will take a lot of your summer up – but taking part in a two week placement in an office, where you might help with filing or answering the phones, prepares you for a host of other similar work. Charities are always looking for people to help them with their fund raising. Not only will you generate experience that you can tell employers about, you will also get a feel of how the working world really is so that it doesn’t come as a shock when you do get your first job.

Another option, if voluntary work or experience doesn’t suit, is to try looking at places such as bars, where they are often willing to train staff, or supermarkets where it is a requirement that they do.

Some good places to look at job vacancies are and JobSearch by the JobCentre, alternatively a lot of the time it helps just getting out into the town/city and having a look in windows and doors for opportunities there. Take with you your CV, and go in and apply.

Once you’re there, fitting it around uni can be a challenge.
Of course, once you’ve got your job it is an incredible achievement and an incredible relief financially. Most of the time, employers will ask you for your timetable – so that you can be scheduled in to work around it. However, you must be aware that both uni and the workplace sometimes have extra requirements. Lectures are moved, personal tutorials are swapped over, whole timetables shift halfway through the year due to tutor illness – in the same way that work might have a busy season, a meeting in which the whole staff have to attend or some other crisis that the team are expected to help with.

This will leave overlaps. Days where, come checking your emails or your phone in a morning, you realise that you’re expected to be in two places at once. Not only is this physically impossible, it can be mentally draining too. When faced with not wanting to let your boss down, and not wanting to miss a lecture or waste a seminar, it can be a very stressful situation. It helps if your boss is flexible and understanding, but of course not everyone is so lucky.

It comes down to making balanced choices. Not attending one or two lectures every now and then is not going to kill you – so long as you catch up with it online or via friends later, and telling your boss no occasionally, when you really can’t work, is equally not going to make him or her fire you.

Being a student obviously comes before working; because it’s why you’re here in the first place. To waste your degree because of work would be a crying shame. You have 3 or 4 years of your life to be a University student and get your degree – you have the remainder of it to work. Sometimes, that can help to put things in perspective when making a choice.

In this midst of work-uni-life balance, social lives can slip
Suddenly, you’ve got to spend approximately 20hrs of your life somewhere else, working for someone else. Now, whether you love your job or not (and it’s better if you do), that leaves 20hrs of your life where you can’t see your friends. Mix that in with another 20hrs spent dedicated to uni per week, and then just time for sleeping accordingly and eating – there’s not a great deal of time there to spend with your friends. With drinking being a favourite pastime, with all of the late nights and the hangovers that entails, it seems as if you have to choose between seeing your friends the night before, or spending the entire day at work practically losing things in your gigantic eye-bags.

I’ve found there are a few ways to keep social even with a busy schedule; one is to make the most of your frees, and the other is to spend a night in. Pick a flat or house, get a pizza and stick on netflix. Invite a few people round, and just spend the night relaxing together.

Repeat as necessary, but don’t feel as if you’re ‘boring’ if you decide to skip a night or two. Everyone has different commitments at different times in their lives; yours are just now.

It is a huge challenge
To different degrees and in different ways, true, but all work at uni is a challenge. It can either be draining on time and effort for little pay, push you away from your social circle and having an effect as your grades slip, or it can be a positive experience.  You have to absolutely be willing to juggle things, and you have to be willing to sacrifice a few nights out or days away in place of money or experience, you have to know when to fit things in and keep organized. You also have to be sensible about knowing when enough is enough; don’t let money blind you, and don’t let the fear of letting someone down stop you. The only person that will be let down if you drive yourself insane with a ridiculous amount of work is yourself.

There is only so much a person can juggle, and don’t let pressure or fear stop you from doing what you know is best for you.

That being said, if you’re lucky enough to get a job doing something that you love – or something that leads you up to your career – it’s something that you shouldn’t complain about. Experience alongside your degree is essential, and proving that you have the work ethic and the proper skills to hold down a job whilst in uni will make employers after graduation think harder about employing you.

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