How much college students need to work to 'get by'

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Is College Tuition Worth the Cost?


During my college years, I worked at least two jobs every summer. My paychecks covered all my bills and helped me save up for school. I didn't earn nearly enough to pay for all my college costs, but my summer paychecks definitely made a dent in my school bill.

College students who worked during their summer breaks in the late 1970s and early 1980s had it better than me (I attended college from 1997-2001) and much better than college students today.

RELATED: The best part-time jobs for college students

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Best part-time job for college students
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Best part-time job for college students

Nanny 
If you grew up babysitting younger family members, then this position is perfect for you. Not only is being a nanny one of the most flexible part-time jobs, but you can set your own rate. 

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Receptionist
While the hours for this position may not be as flexible, working as an office assistant or receptionist for a major company is a great way to get your foot in the door. As a receptionist you will be tasked with entry-level responsibilities, which will give you a great advantage when applying to your first full-time job. 

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Waiter/Waitress  
Possibly one of the most demanding jobs, working as a server in a restaurant comes with just as much stress as reward. The hours may be long, but at some restaurants, wages can be worth it. 

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Tutor  
Similar to working as a nanny, being a tutor is one of the most flexible job opportunities. As a tutor, you can help others in a variety of subjects. This is a great job for a college student because not only will you be helping others, but you will also be strengthening your knowledge in whatever subject you teach. 

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Freelance Work 
Much like serving, being a freelancer can be very rewarding financially. As a freelancer, you can choose which industry you want to work in and begin to gain experience while still in school. 

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Work-Study Job  
If you are a student who meets the qualifications for financial aid, you can apply for your school's work study program. Work study schedules your shifts around your class schedule and the best part is that most jobs are on campus and the money you make can go directly towards paying off your tuition or any other university balances. 

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According to NPR, it cost about $2,870 total to attend college in 1981-1982 — that includes tuition, fees and room and board. Hypothetically, a working-class student back then with no monetary help from their folks could snag a Pell Grant from the federal government for $1,800, leaving them with $1,000 in school costs to cover. Says NPR:

Now, $3.35 an hour was the minimum wage back then. So, making $2,870 meant working 842 hours. That's 16 hours a week year-round — a decent part-time job. It's also about nine hours a day for three straight months — a full-time, seven-day-a-week summer job. Or, more likely, a combination of both. In short: not impossible. Far from it.

These days, you're still likely to see college students working over their summer break, but their paychecks fall far short of being able to cover their college expenses. According to NPR, the average cost of college (at a four-year public university) for the 2015-2016 school year was $19,548. Pell Grant awards topped out at $5,775, leaving students with a $13,773 bill.

So how much would a student need to work to cover their remaining college costs? The answer is alarming. Says NPR:

A student would now have to work 37 hours a week, every week of the year, at the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, to get by. Research shows that when college students work more than 20 hours a week their studies suffer. If they're working full time, many will take longer to finish and end up paying even more.

To cover today's costs with a low-skilled summer job? Over 90 days, a student would need to work 21.1 hours a day.

Put in that perspective, it's a lot easier to understand why so many students are relying on student loans to help them pay for a significant chunk of their college expenses.

College doesn't have to break the bank. Check out 5 Ways to Dramatically Reduce the Cost of College.

Are you surprised to see how many hours a college student needs to work just to get by? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

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