Sunday, October 2, 2011

To work or not to work through actually do have a choice.

*Samsonite backpack winner announced @ the end of this post! =)

With the economy in the state that it is in and many community college students having to support sometimes not only themselves but also their families, work is a growing part of the college experience for almost all students.

And while working can provide great experience and help pay the bills, too often it stands in the way of students’ goals.

In one of my first college classes I sat next to this really smart girl who worked 30+ hours per week at a restaurant. She always looked tired, was often late, and it was obvious work was her first priority. One morning she got an essay back with a big fat D written on it.  She asked the professor about it after class and as I was walking out I heard him say to her: “you have to choose – work or school. You can’t have both.”

At the time I thought he was pretty harsh, but then I realized that he was absolutely right. It’s not that you can’t work and go to college – most people have no choice. But you can’t make both the top priority. And yet sadly what often happens is so many invest their time and energy into work and then have nothing left to give to college.

That smart girl in my class dropped out of college. I’m not sure if she ever went back; I think she still works in that restaurant.

The key is to remember is that if you truly invest your time and energy into your college experience you will make more money in your lifetime than you will make in those four years working at a restaurant (or wherever you work in college). Working in college gives short-term payback. But college is a lifetime investment that will pay off more than you can imagine if….and this is a big if….you truly invest your 100%.

This is the hardest part for students to wrap their heads around – especially those like myself who come from lower socio-economic backgrounds. We did not grow up with the concept of investment. Debt is the devil. We see it crush our parents. This is not a bad mentality when it comes to buying frivolous things like luxury cars or houses before we’re ready. But it can cripple us when it comes to our education.

I had to support myself 100% in college. In my first two years at community college – in addition to financial aid – I chose to take out a few small loans that were offered to me even though my tuition was already covered. My instincts told me not to do this because of my background. But my boyfriend at the time (now my husband) told me that investing in myself and my college education was one of the only times loans really made sense.

So I took his advice and nervously accepted a $3,000 subsidized (meaning government will pay interest while you’re in school) loan.

Now I didn’t use that money to go buy fancy electronics or a car. I used it to buy gas, pay my cell phone bill, and attend to other expenses that I would have had to work to pay for. I babysat on the side and invested myself 100% in college. And the credentials and grades and student activities that I was able to engage in led to my winning the $110,000 Jack Kent Cooke scholarship. Talk about a payoff!

Now while everyone may not win a huge scholarship, there are still so many scholarships out there that you could win by investing in your entire college experience. Scholarships that could pay you what you make in a year  of working. Scholarships that you disqualify yourself for when you work too much and study too little. 

So by now you’re probably thinking – well yeah Isa that sounds all nice and great I'd love to not have to work so much but I still can’t afford college if I don’t work!

Of course – I understand. Focusing 100% on college without having to work is a luxury. But it is also an investment and it is one you should work towards as much as you possibly can. There are three options I recommend, and if you’re don’t currently find yourself in one of these 3 options – change your situation as soon as you can. I would never be so definitive if I didn’t believe wholeheartedly that this information will help you achieve your dreams, make your life better, and help you make more money. 

1. Loans
I’m not talking about choosing the fanciest private school and taking out $30,000+ loans. When you’re being smart by going to a community college and then perhaps even a public college and financial aid is covering some of your tuition, don’t discount those subsidized loan offerings when you get your financial aid package. Loans are very serious and you should be strategic about them. If you accept the loans and promise yourself to use that money to replace working so often than it will be a decision that will pay off. Most of my friends who worked tirelessly in college and avoided loans like the plague are still in those jobs making hourly wages.

The key is discipline. You cannot spend that money frivolously or you defeat the entire purpose. It is an investment. An investment in yourself. If you use that money to give you more time to invest in your studies and your college involvement you will get a huge return on your investment.

To me, making the most of your college experience is one of the most guaranteed investments for your life and your future. Especially if you use the extra time that loans can give you wisely.

2. Flexible Job
If loans don’t cover everything the next step is to get a job that is flexible and will work around your college schedule. Babysitting always worked great for me because if I had a big test to study for I could always say no. If you have to work a job that doesn’t have anything to do with your future aspirations flexibility is key. It should never affect your grades or your college opportunities.

3. Job in your Desired Industry
If you do have to work in college the best way to make the time valuable is if you are in a job that adds significant related experience to your resume and/or gets your foot in the door of an industry or company that interests you. For example, one of my students wants to be a Disney event planner, and thus working quick service food at Disney is giving her the opportunity to network with professionals in the company she desires to work for. She’s already gotten to shadow an event planner inside the Cinderella Castle!

After you graduate the hardest and most ego-shattering part of looking for a job is that no one will hire you without related experience, and you can’t get related experience if no one will hire you. If you have to work in college it is smart to start gaining related experience as much as possible. While of course you won’t be able to get the exact job you could get with a college degree, you can get experience on the ground floor and learn a lot of valuable information about the company/industry and network with people who might one day hire you.

I know this isn’t easy but it is probably the most valuable advice I could ever give you. There is nothing that breaks my heart more than watching students fail their classes and eventually drop out because they had to work too much. I admire these students because they are just trying to do their best, to support themselves in a tough economy, and are doing everything they can with what they know.  

So now I hope you know more so you can work smarter and invest in yourself during this time.

You are worth the investment. Think long term. Do not let money (yes even the lack of it) control your life and your future. You can make a better decision. You can make more money than you ever thought possible. But you must invest in yourself now. Do not let the short-term rob you of your long-term success.

You are worth it.
If you need further advice on any of the options above or want to know more about how to really invest in yourself during college feel free to e-mail me at

Congratulations to the Samsonite Backpack winner Brandon Hall from Elk Grove, CA!!!

To read more about Isa's personal story how you can build relationships to: make positive friends, be more successful in academics and work, find the right people to connect with, and access the hidden job market, grab a FREE e-copy of the first chapter of Community College Success: How to Finish with Friends, Scholarships, Internships, and the Career of Your Dreams! Claim your free copy on the Facebook page!


  1. In community college, I babysat from Tuesdays to Fridays, 11 hours each day. I took three 3-hour classes on Monday (one in the morning, one in the afternoon, and one in the evening) and one online class. I was a full-time student and worked full-time. While this may not be for everyone - I admit, I was exhausted on Mondays - I had no choice. I needed to finish school but be able to continue paying the rent. So this is where I think it's mind over matter. You may be exhausted but you know you HAVE to do it so you suck it up and just DO it. I'm glad I wanted school bad enough. I graduated with a 3.94 GPA and now attend an Ivy League :) YOU CAN DO IT TOO!!
    Thanks for this great post, Isa :)

  2. Thank you Isa for taking me as an example!
    I learned from the best so thank you! :)

  3. I'm a strong supporter of having a job during college, especially if it's one that will allow you to work in the industry you're graduating in. That said, it's critical to work for a company that will allow your schedule to be flexible so you can work it into your ever-changing school schedule.

  4. I LOVE these comments. Thank you so much for sharing you guys. These are great stories/advice.


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