Surviving First Year: Balancing Work and School

It’s no secret that pursing post-secondary education is an expensive endeavour. Between ever-rising tuition costs, expensive housing, meal plans, and trying to have a little fun in the in-between moments, it can be challenging as a young person to feel financially independent and responsible.

For me, the burden fell down upon my lap when I realized my parents didn’t create an RESP for me. Since we moved to Canada while I had already begun grade school, they were unaware of what was offered in terms of post-secondary savings plans. That meant a long and exhausting relationship with OSAP, applying for dozens of scholarships and bursaries, keeping my grades astronomically high to maintain entrance scholarships, and begrudgingly, getting a part-time job.

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I worked all throughout high school in a few different part-time positions, including being a dance instructor, a host at McDonalds, and a barista at Starbucks. Work never interfered with my studies, because by the time I graduated I didn’t know what life would be like without having a part-time job.

Although my goal was to not work during my first year (or at least first semester), the cards fell against my favour and I knew I had an obligation to maintain financial health and stability for myself. So, I applied to a few jobs ON campus in an attempt to integrate my school schedule with my work schedule.

I was first hired as an accessible formats technician assistant at the end of August, and I started right away in Ryerson’s library at my own little desk. The job demands 10 hours of work per week, which typically involves me scanning several thousand pages of course material and running them through text-recognition software to aid students with disabilities that may restrict them from reading and utilizing course material, watching required videos, and so on.

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The job is pretty low-maintenance, as part-time positions go. I exclusively work in-house, so I know exactly what hours each week I need to be booked off and I am able to accurately plan and manage my time outside of work. Sometimes the issue of an assignment being due or an exam coming up arises, and in this case, I feel comfortable emailing my boss and asking to reschedule my hours or just take some time off for the week. One awesome thing about working at the University is that all of my supervisors are totally understanding of my commitment to school, and they never ask me to put work before my education.

My second job is the one I’m working on right this second! As a digital marketing assistant (or student ambassador, I am privy to both terms) I get to produce content each week for WhyRyerson, whether it is in the form of a blog, vlog, Buzzfeed quiz, or even Snapchat takeover. As a journalism student and avid social media user, this position is RIGHT up my alley. It feels less like work, and more like play on most days. The aspect of pitching creative, original and cool ideas every week is definitely a challenge–sometimes I’ll just sit in my chair and draw a blank because my brain is so drained from the work I’ve been doing during the week. But it’s also incredibly cathartic, and allows me to (hopefully!) engage with potential students and try to make their decision to become a Ryerson Ram as easy as mine was.

One of the hardest things about having two part-time jobs for me personally is knowing how much I actually rely on these jobs to stay afloat during my time here. I made a lot of risky financial decisions, like choosing to live on residence despite living close enough to commute, opting out of a meal plan and choosing to buy my own groceries, and back in my high school days, having a car when I realiiiistically didn’t need one. To me, working part-time isn’t a hobby or a way to make a little spending money, it’s an integral part of my University career. And I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. Thousands of students rely on part-time work to pay tuition and residence fees every year, all while balancing their career as a full-time student. It’s not always easy, but it’s what we signed up for.

I won’t say that it’s always a walk in the park. There are some days that I feel so completely overwhelmed by my commitments to both work and school that I simply break down. I often feel like I’m letting people down, or compromising my own happiness and energy to maintain everything that’s going on in my life.

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But once I let the feeling pass, and take control of my time and my mindset, I forget about everything holding me back and focus on what needs to be done. If nothing else, working while at school has helped me develop a thick skin and healthy work ethic.

A lot of people ask me if I would choose to not work if I had the option, and it’s a hard question to answer. Although it would be nice to have a few extra hours of sleep in the morning, not have to think about any external projects or commitments, and be able to focus more of my time and attention on school, I don’t know if I can picture my life without work. I make sure that whatever I’m doing fits into my life some way, and work hard to find enjoyment in every position I take. It provides me with a sense of responsibility, accomplishment, personal and professional growth, and has developed my time management skills to no end. Working while in school keeps me on my toes, forces me to stay focused and to utilize the time that I have in the best way possible. I also know that having these positions will help me in the future–for example, I am far more equipped now to continue working in social media and promotion than I was three months ago! Plus, I’ve learned that it’s something I enjoy and can see myself pursuing professionally just a few years down the line.

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Although it may seem challenging, and often times draining, having a job while in school is incredibly gratifying. I tell everyone who asks me that it is 110% doable with the right attitude, a little schedule manoeuvring, and the right position.

Now get back to work before your boss catches you on my blog!

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