I burst through the doorway of my work locker room. I’m drenched in sweat and already two minutes late for my shift. It’s five o’clock on a Friday evening. Once again, I’ve had to run from the train station to get here, because I decided to stick around until the end of my university tutorial. It’s the only class time available and at my casual pub job, if I’m unavailable every Friday evening, I’m not much use to them as an employee.
As I put my things in my locker, I realise this isn’t the first, or even the fifth time I’ve felt the strain of managing a part-time job with the pressures of university, and I’m struggling to weigh up the options.
How do I put my university studies first while continuing to make a living?
I know I, along with many of my peers, feel guilty when I put my part-time job over my studies. Your degree is meant to be a gateway to your future career path. If I’m not putting everything into my degree, am I limiting my future self?
High Marks Don’t Pay The Bills
Getting a High Distinction on an assessment won’t pay for dinner, but at the same time, you still want to do well in your studies. So, where do you draw the line between studying and work? And how can you put university first while trying to earn a living?
It’s hard to prioritise the future when you live in the present. You need to survive, and often the need to secure yourself financially is grappled by the need to make yourself readily available to your employers. University can’t do these things. Often our time spent doing university homework is cut by the need to pick up extra hours at work. While uni can offer you some paid internships and volunteer opportunities in your desired career path, it cannot assist you with paying the bills like your job can.
As the semester thickens and assessments start rolling in, the juggle of balancing your work and studies can lead to a mountain of stress. How can you not stretch yourself so thin while also finding time to rest amongst the chaos?
Set Yourself A Budget
If you’re set on studying and need to make a living, then neither of these things is something you can just ‘give up’ on. You need both to survive. One of the things that helped me manage myself during the semester both practically and mentally was setting myself a budget.
Though it may sound simple, setting a budget can be hard. When I created my budget for the semester, I sourced the help of a third-party software to assist me in inputting my income. Not only did this software make it easier to track my spending, but it also took away the stress of having to manage my finances.
There are so many online resources available for uni students to help create a budget. Raiz and MyBudget were some of the ones I was familiar with but there are also excel and google doc templates available from Etsy. Spending a little money on a spreadsheet that will calculate your finances for the semester will save you the stress of having to do it yourself, especially if you’re already pushed for time.
Physical Reminders, Calendars and Breaks
Another tool that helped me keep on top of juggling university and work was creating physical reminders. Having a detailed calendar in my workspace helped as a visual indicator that I would check in with as well as organise my weeks around. I could see each week what might need to be prioritised in the coming days and could re-evaluate how to allocate my time between university studies and work.
Having the calendar also helped me organise my shifts with my employer as I could communicate which weeks I would be able to pick up more shifts and which weeks I would need to step back and focus on my studies.
Allowing myself breaks and one day off from everything helped me to decompress from my university and work environment. Setting breaks helped me slow down and reset. Exercising is something I enjoy, so, I’d make sure to get outside at least once a day, whether it be playing basketball socially, walking my dog, or riding my bike. Aside from the physical benefits, it allowed me time to clear my head and rationalise my schedule in a fresh headspace.
When studying and completing assessments, I also found it beneficial to step away for a day and come back to it with a fresh perspective once I had rested. This would in a way reinvigorate my drive. Setting boundaries around studying, changed how I viewed both work and uni, and while initially, it felt like a step back from working to my full potential, I found that taking breaks and focusing on my mental health was just as important for achieving my goals.
Don’t Stretch Yourself Too Thin
Being a full-time student is hard. You’re fighting burnout, juggling availability, and keeping yourself afloat by pouring the rest of your energy into keeping your grades up. You feel guilty for not working, guilty for not studying, and burnt out when you spend all your time doing both.
I’ve often found myself feeling guilty for passing up shifts in order to take time out for myself. For me, the holidays from uni didn’t mean a holiday; they were just a time when I could give myself over entirely to my employer. Instead of relaxing down at the beach, or planning an interstate getaway with my mates, I was begging to get rostered on for every extra shift, stretching myself further just so I could earn a little bit of extra cash.
This had physical and psychological consequences. I noticed myself becoming more irritable, fatigued and less focused during these climactic periods. I’d have less energy to exercise and started eating more takeout because I was too exhausted to cook for myself.
Personally, I’ve never been someone who has thrived by driving in high gear all the time. At some point though, you have to allow yourself to rest and slow down. The semester break is a break. It is not a race to earn all the extra money you can before another hard year of study.
During your degree, life can feel like a perpetual grind. It’s difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel, especially during these past few tumultuous years of uncertainty. But the best thing you can do is give yourself a chance by preparing as comprehensively as possible and taking your own well-being into account.
Organise your schedule for the semester and set yourself a budget. Speak to your boss about the fact that you’re juggling full-time study with work and allow yourself time to rest so you don’t burn out. Building healthy habits will reduce your stress throughout the semester and make work and study less taxing.
Most importantly: Put yourself first. Balancing university and employment can feel like a race, but it’s more like a marathon. Remember to breathe and pace yourself.