Working Students: How to Maintain a Balance

Entering post-secondary can be overwhelming for many students, because now, school comes with a price tag. Regardless of their unique financial situations, many students choose to work while enrolled in post-secondary education. For me, I entered university with the mindset that I would work in the summer and not work during the school year. This was a common decision among my peers as well. However, after my first year, I decided my plan was not realistic. I decided instead that I would need to work throughout the school year as working only four months a year was not bringing in enough income.

I share this because I know that this is a common situation for many students. There are students that work multiple jobs while enrolled in school, which can increase the likelihood of additional stress on them and stems from a lack of balance. Students struggle to balance school, work, and time for themselves, whether that be socializing, doing something you love, or just time for self-care.

Maintaining this balance is difficult to do. I am currently juggling two part-time jobs while in school full-time and let me tell you, it’s not easy to balance everything. Some days I feel overwhelmed and see no free time in sight, and some days I feel in control and can find time for things I enjoy. The difference between these two scenarios is maintaining a balance.

Research indicates that 10-15 hours a week of work, in addition to being enrolled in school full-time is considered an ideal amount. Although this is an ideal amount, it isn’t the reality for all students as some may work less, and some more. OUSA’s 2020 Ontario Undergraduate Student Survey, found that 17% of students worked full-time in-study. Since 30 hours a week is considered full-time, this brings focus to the number of students who are working more than what is considered an ideal amount. Every student’s working and school hours vary, therefore balance looks different for everyone. For me, I tend to prioritize my school and work as it feels like a commitment. The key to including time for myself within the balance is to commit to my mental health and taking time for myself in addition to work and school. A common recommendation that many people suggest is focusing on time management. This is definitely an important component to maintaining a balance. However, to ensure that you are following the schedule you create for yourself, you need to set yourself up for success through your mindset. Entering your week with a mindset that you are committed to having time for enjoyment and time for yourself will help motivate you to stick to the allocated times for school and work, and will ensure you have that time to refresh and focus on what makes you happy.

The importance of balance is acknowledging that your work, school, and time for yourself all connect. Focusing on your mental health and incorporating practices/activities you enjoy doing will only increase your ability to complete your work and school commitments. As I previously mentioned, not working is not always an option for all students, and it can be necessary for students to afford post-secondary education.  The 2020 Ontario Undergraduate Student Survey also revealed that the top reason students completing the survey worked in-study was to earn money for school, above any other reason. In these cases, balance is especially important because you cannot allow yourself to remove the working component, regardless of if you are struggling or not. 

As simple as this sounds, it isn’t always easy to maintain an equal balance between the different components of your life. Some weeks will be better than others, which is why it is important to take it one week at a time, focusing on short-term goals that will support any long-term goals you may have. Trying to maintain that balance at all, and just thinking about making that effort, is a testament to how much you care about yourself and your work, and we should be proud of ourselves for showing up everyday regardless of how successfully we can actually find that balance. 

Although changing my mindset and making my mental health a commitment is improving my work and personal life balance, it might not be exactly what works for you. Finding balance is all about trial and error, attempting different strategies, and navigating through obstacles that may arise. When you find your ideal way to maintain your own balance, you will set yourself up for success with your work, education, and time for enjoyment.


Written by Emma Coppins, Policy Analyst at the Trent Durham Student Association.