Balancing jobs with school is not a new challenge for college students in America. The past two years, however, have added an extra complication as students now have to also balance the stressors of the COVID-19 pandemic with their education.
After the University of New Mexico went completely virtual for a period of time last year, many students were anxious to return to an in-person environment. However, senior Indica Simpson said many students set themselves up with unrealistic expectations that made the transition difficult.
“All of us thought that once we’d be in person that the world would just be magically fixed again and we’d all understand education to its fullest, and I don’t think that was the case at all. I think that we came back with certain expectations that weren’t met, and I also think it’s been a really hard transition,” Simpson said.
Recent graduate Alexandria Wiesel said her schoolwork took a hard hit when the pandemic was at its height and UNM was online. Now, however, she said the feeling of safety that having the vaccine gives her allows her to cope better with the stressors of the pandemic.
“I have the luxury to rely on science and get the vaccine and have my mind at ease with it for a little bit … My schoolwork (in fall 2021) in particular was not super affected, but during the pandemic it definitely was. It was hard to do just about anything,” Wiesel said.
Simpson said many students used less “brain power” when attending school virtually and that, overall, “it doesn’t feel like college when you’re online.”
Looking ahead, Simpson isn’t sure how to plan her time because of how quickly the pandemic changes things.
“It’s hard to plan what kinds of classes you want to take, what kind of internships you want to do, what kind of things you want to put your time towards since you don’t know what we’re going to be doing (in the future),” Simpson said. “You can apply to graduate school but if everything shuts down again, what is the point?”
Wiesel said she likes to stay busy and working jobs gives her an outlet to help do that.
“I really like to be productive and I like to have lots of things going on and that makes me feel good, so I guess staying busy is a mental health practice for myself. It’s different than others but everyone has to find their own thing to keep them going,” Wiesel said.
As of 2018, the National Center for Education Statistics reported that 43% of full-time undergraduate students had jobs and 81% of part-time undergraduate students had jobs.
Simpson said it’s important to find “a job that’s within the same interests” that you’re pursuing in school so that you’re able to do work for both at the same time.
Get content from The Daily Lobo delivered to your inbox
The overall dropout rate for undergraduate students is approximately 40% in the U.S., according to the Education Data Initiative, a research-based site on U.S. education systems. The site said the biggest reason for dropping out is financial pressure.
“Working while attending school can be a challenging balance to maintain for many students. Tuition rates and cost of living in the areas where most major colleges (reside) are high. Many students have to work to meet basic needs while attending college,” the Education Data Initiative reported. “It can be a challenge to schedule classes around jobs.”
Simpson said there’s a pressure that college isn’t legitimate if you’re not working on a lot of different things and “a stigma that we have to do all of these things.” She currently works as the Editor-in-Chief of Limina, a student publication at UNM, as well as an intern for Albuquerque Public Schools.
“I like to think making time in itself is a skill and a practice that I’ve been working on through my years in college,” Wiesel said. “Once you keep yourself organized and once you make time, you can do incredible things, and it is difficult … You have to build it up. It’ll take time.”
The New York Times reported that college students were finding jobs or internships more quickly in 2021 than in 2020. In particular, students in STEM-related fields were having the most success.
“The appetite for college labor is strong right now, whether it’s student positions or part-time, all the way through entry-level jobs,” Jennifer Neef, director of the Career Center at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, told the Times.
However, even though the job market is open for college students and recent graduates, what wages these individuals can make, if any, highly impacts who can take the job. Nearly half of all internships are unpaid and the minimum wage for those that do pay in New Mexico is $11.50 per hour — which doesn’t come close to covering the cost of living.
“I’m an unpaid intern so it’s like how do you keep on the lights versus getting this experience in order to do this very niche field? So I would say that I have time (for school and work) but it’s a lot of late nights and crying,” Simpson said.
Megan Gleason is the Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @fabflutist2716