College students accomplish extraordinary things, both inside and outside of the classroom. In order to be successful, it takes time, discipline and hard work. We see this among Gamecock athletes and Honors College scholars, but what about the students who sacrifice their time to financially sustain themselves? Perhaps you have seen them wearing their work uniforms around campus, or even jogging with their backpack and textbooks because their shift starts in thirty minutes. Maybe you yourself have scrolled through Indeed.com during class to see which employment options could benefit you. Tons of restaurants and corporations are handing out signing bonuses, wage raises and more benefits right now to gain back what they have lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They are offering what they can to keep their current staff and hire new employees. These benefits are undoubtedly alluring, especially to a young adult wanting or needing to find a job, but is now really the best time for full-time students to take on part-time jobs?
On one hand, these benefits could be crucial to a student who needs to support themselves. Many kids in college are financially independent of their parents for the first time and need to make sacrifices to pay rent, obtain textbooks and supplies, buy groceries and so much more. In the meantime, corporations are increasing the prices of their goods and services due to employee shortages.
UofSC student and South Carolinian, Ashlyn Sanders, is currently working part-time at a law firm. When asked what working during the semester means to her, she explains that, “working during school helps me keep busy and make money so I can keep up with my bills.” She values her free time for her friends and family and is happy with her part-time job because her hours are flexible and complementary to her lifestyle. Ashlyn and other students alike benefit from their part-time job as it provides a steady income to keep up with their own financial independence, as well as rising consumer prices. Because costs are going up, now does seem like a good time for financially independent students to take on these jobs so that they can increase their financial benefits from desperate employers and utilize a steady flow of money. There's no definite answer for how long an open position or hiring bonus will last, so it may just be worth it to obtain these jobs while you can.
However, suppose you're a financially independent student from out-of-state. In that case, you may want to reconsider taking on a job in South Carolina. Right now, twenty-one states uphold the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, South Carolina being one. While this seems ordinary for some, it's shocking for those who are used to higher wages. California currently holds the highest minimum wage in the country, with $14 an hour. The bonuses and pay increases in Columbia seem tempting, but there could be a more efficient time for you to work. Many out-of-state students come from the North East, where the minimum pay ranges between $9.25 and $12. It may be more reasonable for UofSC students from states such as New Jersey, Maryland and Connecticut to take on extra hours during a school holiday than to spread yourself thin during the semester. For example, working twenty hours per week for $12.00 results in a biweekly payment of $403 after taxes. Meanwhile, to do the same for $7.25, your check would come out to $252. The estimated take-home pay tells a lot, considering you would be working the same amount of time in either situation. For students who would prefer to work out-of-state, now is the best time to save your money, plan ahead, participate in campus organizations and focus on school!
However, out-of-state or not, a handful of students are not necessarily presented with the option to just focus on school or extracurriculars. While most people are looking forward to game days, participating in student clubs and intramural sports, other students are sacrificing the best parts of college for their jobs. Many working students find themselves split between prioritizing their income or their college experience, often having to choose their jobs over a resume-building, unpaid internship. Students who are now upperclassmen looking to grow their future opportunities still need to prioritize financially supporting themselves and must hold off on certain extracurriculars and experiences because they simply don’t have enough free time outside of work.
"I feel like I would be involved in a lot more things if I wasn’t working,” Senior Devin Long, a part-time worker for a moving company, shares. “I also feel as though I’m missing out because I like to play basketball but I can’t find time to go to Strom.” Devin explains that due to his job, he has to miss out on some of his fraternity’s events and has missed several game days in the past. Despite the stress of balancing his job schedule, his schoolwork and his fraternity, he mentions that he always tries to look on the positive side of things: “It’s not extremely difficult because I’m young and don’t need a lot of sleep.” While he adds a bit of light-heartedness to his situation, he also admits that it is stressful on his part.
Finally, whatever experience you have in the labor force, it is important to uphold your values and choose a job that reflects them in the workplace. Positions require workers to wear masks, regardless of vaccination, and a growing number of businesses require proof of immunization. Alternatively, many close-contact, face-to-face jobs are not requiring masks or social distancing among their employees, especially in South Carolina and other southern states. Senior Amy Barron works as a Supplemental Instruction Leader in the Student Success Center and a Teaching Assistant and shares that all of her jobs have COVID policies that she supports. "I don't think I'd want to work with unmasked or unvaccinated students since I spend a lot of time in the classroom with them," she explains. It is crucial that your beliefs are respected by your employer and coworkers, making it simply a matter of feeling safe and comfortable in the workplace. If this is not something you want to tolerate in a job scenario, then working an in-person, part-time job at this time may not be the best decision for you.
So, is now the best time for full-time students to work part-time jobs? The answer is entirely up to you! Depending on who you are, your beliefs and your conditions, you decide your employment status. Although hundreds of businesses are doing what they can to increase the number of new hires, our world still needs time to heal, as well. Mental health should be every student’s number one priority at this time. If you feel that working this semester will be too much for you to handle on top of in-person classes and campus activities, do not feel that you are wrong for choosing not to work. The same goes for those working now: let yourself take breaks when necessary and make sure you set boundaries with your employer. This fall is the first actual semester for most students since 2019. To ease back into things, we need to check on ourselves and our health. We all deserve to enjoy this semester now that we can reunite with our classmates, professors and peers.