Opinion: Getting a job now prepares students for the future

Whether it’s a part-time gig at a supermarket or a big-city internship, being employed during the college years is vital for success later in life.


Nick Rohlman

Icicles form on the Old Capitol on Monday, Jan. 28, 2019.

Jason O'Day, Columnist

Studying hard and participating in extracurricular activities are productive for a student’s development, but there are certain skills and values that can be attained only by earning a paycheck. Part-time jobs provide students with a sense of fulfillment and make them more marketable to employers after graduation. The critical-thinking skills, urgent punctuality, and resilience that can be developed working a few hours each week are just as valuable as the academic knowledge you’ll gain in the classroom.

When I was 16 years old, I began my first job as a Walmart cashier, and I’ve worked for more than 20 different companies since. I know that’s way more jobs than most people will have in their lifetimes, but it also gave me a unique perspective on the importance of developing labor skills.

Not only can working build important skills and substantial income, it might even help your GPA. A study from the Journal of Population Economics suggested that 20 hours per week is the optimal amount of work for a full-time college student. Obviously this is circumstantial to each student’s course load. Those taking particularly demanding courses, or more than five of them, might be better off working 10 to 15 hours per week. In the study, college students who worked 20 hours a week or less had the best average GPA: 3.13. Students who worked more than that: 2.95, and students who didn’t work at all: 3.04.

The critical-thinking skills, urgent punctuality, and resilience that can be developed working a few hours each week are just as valuable as the academic knowledge you’ll gain in the classroom. 

Personally, I get an immense feeling of satisfaction when I pay for my own textbooks, groceries, clothing, and rent. I’ll admit that I’m blessed to have benevolent family members who help me out with those expenses when necessary, but I try to be as financially independent as possible. Trust me, if you develop a strong work ethic outside the classroom and become self-sufficient now, adjusting to life after graduation will be much easier, and you’ll have alternative experience to fall back on if jobs in your field aren’t immediately available.

This doesn’t mean work in your field should go ignored. I strongly encourage all students to consider summer internships, which provide direct qualifications that extend beyond your academic pedigree. I completed my first internship last summer in Chicago for a non-profit group called Truth in Accounting. It was absolutely wonderful, and I regret not doing an internship sooner.

There’s an old stereotype of an internship as a summer full of coffee runs. That was certainly not the case for me. I ran social-media pages, was trained on sales software, helped operate a website, learned how to use Google Ads, wrote articles, went on a day trip to my boss’ lake house in Wisconsin, and figured out what it’s really like to work in a professional office setting.

It’s certainly more productive than going back home all summer to play Call of Duty or taking trips to the mall every day. To be fair, I’m a 27-year-old college student, so I don’t know exactly what teenagers do these days.

At the risk of sounding like an old man telling you to get a job so you’re prepared for the “real world,” maintaining some level of employment during these adolescent years is vital to set oneself apart from the crowd of graduates needing a job after classes are over.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.