Should I Work or Save My GPA?: What Students Sacrifice

The cost of college has become so high that most students have to either work a lot before they go to school, have their parents pay for everything, or work while they attend school. In some cases, we have students who are forced to attend school part-time; making themselves ineligible to receive financial aid.

Only taking 12 credits per semester at BYU-Idaho would force students to stay for 10 semesters. If they only stayed for two semesters each year and didn’t take any classes in the third semester, they would take five years to earn their bachelors degree. Let’s say that our example student from earlier had to work and could only afford to take 6 credits per semester. They would be stuck at BYU-Idaho for 10 years. Fun fact about BYU-Idaho: You can’t stay for that long under normal circumstances. Under normal circumstances, you would either be told to take more credits or leave. So what should we do?

I mentioned before in an earlier article about work and its effect on your grades. People are sometimes hellbent on working while they’re in college because they feel like it will help them financially in the long run. As true as this is, many people seem to ignore the sacrifice that we all make by working during the semester: Our grades. Many will say that there’s nothing wrong with working throughout the school year; they insist that their grades will be alright.

How does working year-round affect our grades? Part of it has to do with when you sleep. I understand that it’s great to stay up late with friends, but if you knew that sleep helped you retain what you learned would you try to get more of it? Last year, the National Science Foundation (NSF) published a special report about the connection between memory and sleep. They believe that memory processing happens when you sleep. It makes sense when you think about what my algebra teacher told us (paraphrased) last semester (Spring ’14):

Some people believe that frustration is not good when it comes to school. These same people tend to believe that when we become frustrated is when we should take a break. As this is generally true for spiritual reasons, an understanding of sleep and the benefits you get is ever better. When I was earning my Ph.D. at the University of Utah, I came across a problem that I could not solve. I was extremely frustrated over it. I could have stayed up all night so I could try to figure it out. Instead, I decided to sleep on it and try again in the morning. When I woke up, I knew how to solve that problem. When I was asleep, my brain was figuring it out for me. How? Sleep is great for memory retention. My brain took the parts that I learned in class and applied it to my problem, leaving me with the correct answer when I woke up.

So what does this have to do with whether we work while we’re in college or not? One main issue with working is the hours. At times, we might find ourselves having to work full-time and have very little time for homework. On the other hand, we may find ourselves working part-time and, though we have a lot of time for homework, we have very little money and cannot meet our financial obligations. This is how work forces us to choose between money for our financial obligations and our GPA. It’s not really fair, is it?

I have personal experience that tells me that it’s not a good idea to work and attend school at the same time. As I mentioned in one of my earlier articles, I told my readers that I used to work from 4 am to 7 am as a custodian on campus. As I’ve said before, I would much rather not work than do any job while I’m in school. This is one of the hardest jobs to do as a student. A long time ago, I learned that if I were to wake up at 3:30 am and not have work, I would get homework done much more efficiently. I would be much more focused. I would have a better understanding of what I learned the day before and how to apply it to the assignment I’m doing. But I didn’t have this luxury.

Working in this timeframe might seem like a good idea, since it doesn’t interfere with my class schedules, but it’s really not. You see, it’s not just the time that I work that is affected. The night before is affected as well. In order to get eight hours of sleep, I would need to go to bed at 7:30 pm the night before work. Technically, the most ideal time for work would be a part-time night shift, but who really has that option other than BYU-Idaho students?

Many older folks have said that there was a time when college students could work in summer and pay for tuition for a year. Nowadays, we work for a summer and pull in tuition for a quarter of the year. If you attend BYU-Idaho for all three semesters out of the year, you only get a 7-week break. In that little break, if you could find a full-time job somewhere, you would pull in $2,030 if you made minimum wage. Some people will say that this is a good example as to why we need a $10 minimum wage. Well, at $10.15, I would still pull in just $2,842 during that 7-week break. That would pay for tuition, student health insurance, and books for one semester.

Online Sources Contribute to the Debate

Debate.org had a poll that showed 53% of people say that you should work in college. However, the arguments given by the supporters of student employment were awful. Some people said that they could do it so you should be able to as well. Others just gave their opinion about how it always helps you learn time management and how it builds character. The other side of the argument, which was 47% of the vote, had great arguments. They said things like you should focus on your studies or don’t work unless you really have to. One was major specific, stating that if you’re a science or engineering major, you could wind up disqualifying yourself from graduate school.

U.S. News wrote an article about the pros and cons of working in school. The issue with this article is that I saw no cons other than you lose the benefit of working in school when you work too many hours. About Money wrote an article listing five reasons why you should work in college. What killed all credibility in this article (for me at least) was the point that working in school improves your grades. The only way that this would even remotely help would be by giving you a good work ethic, that is, if you didn’t have one already. They also talked about avoiding debt by working. There is nothing concerning graduate school in this argument.

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