How On-Campus Jobs Transformed My Student Experience

There’s a lot of college advice floating around out there. Not all of it is good. I recently ran across an article advising college students not to take jobs, because they would inevitably be crappy, uninteresting, dead-end jobs and that you’d be better off joining clubs and having fun during your college years.

Just another day at the office: photo taken while horseback riding on the Oregon coast with a group of Japanese students studying English through the University of Oregon's American English Institute, where I worked as an Activities Coordinator.

Just another day at the office: photo taken while horseback riding on the Oregon coast with a group of Japanese students studying English through the University of Oregon's American English Institute, where I worked as an Activities Coordinator.

Aside from the enormous assumption of privilege assumed in that statement (because obviously a huge number of college students can’t afford not to work), I was truly surprised to see advice assuming there were no “good jobs” that college students could hold while studying. I’ll assume the author either 1) had a terrible experience and has chosen to externalize and universalize it or, 2) has a substantial lack of imagination.

There are good jobs out there for college students.

Thousands of work-study scholarship holders, on-campus employees, and students who held part-time jobs off-campus can tell you the same.

First, I’d like to say a brief word for the “bad jobs” students often hold. All experience can become good experience. I hope all students have the chance to maintain a balance of activities which prioritizes academics and personal development. That’s the primary point of college years. But I would also challenge students in “crappy jobs” to imagine creative ways these could lead to better opportunities in the future, in all kinds of creative ways. Never have I seen a job market like the number of restaurants and pubs advertising for experienced cooks and wait staff in Galway in Western Ireland. I have friends of friends who have used “bad” nanny experiences to send them overseas to work in au pair positions in Paris. Experience like that might help you take the road for bigger adventures.

I used to fold and insert the advertisements for the Sunday issue of the Denver Post. I have never found a way to apply that experience in my life since then, but maybe someday I will. Or maybe that will someday serve as a useful anecdote…as it has here in this blog. For great examples of crappy work experience, read Stephen King’s On Writing. I challenge you to top his early resume for workplace misery.

But now let’s talk about the good student jobs around you on campus.

Here’s some campus jobs I wish I’d had:

  • Library staff
  • Writer/editor for an on-campus publication
  • Outdoor Program employee
  • Craft Center employee
  • Campus radio host

For me, the key to a good on-campus job was a chance to try something totally new. I wanted a paycheck, but also an experience. And I wanted flexibility. I wanted on-campus jobs that allowed me to maximize skills and experiences for minimal time commitment.

Here’s the weird and lovely list of jobs I held on-campus as an undergrad. (I had others later, as a Master’s student)

While holding these jobs, I was paid to

  • Go horseback riding on a beach, go to the opera, eat meals, jump into Crater Lake, go garage saleing… (As an activities coordinator for international students)
  • Learn to interact with the world in support of a blind student 
  • Write my stories of student life
  • Run events with social justice speakers, including event coordination, outreach, and driving the speakers around town (including some individuals who have been key inspirational figures in my life)
  • Gain experience as a tutor
  • Gain experience as a teacher’s assistant
  • Get paid to do my dream job with the Inside-Out program (I'll be writing a longer post on this in the future)

None of these were even half-time positions. I spent very little time on some of them—less than two hours a week for less a year in some cases. But I got so much out of these on-campus jobs. The range of experience on my CV has served me well, as has the broad range of individuals and perspectives I have encountered along the way. I learned things as a tutor that I used later as a Graduate Teaching Fellow, and gained experience as an activities coordinator for international students that helped me enormously on my subsequent travels and event organizing efforts. They weren’t all fun all the time, but the breadth of learning and networking from those jobs were extraordinary.

I honestly believe that there are many, many on-campus job opportunities that will enhance a college career by more than just a few bucks for “fun money” on the weekends. Holding a job as a student

  • Improved my network—employers, professors, peers, campus staff, and people from around the world
  • Deepened my academic interests—I learned and experienced things that brought me new perspectives and interests
  • Taught me new skills—organizing, event coordinating, teaching, writing, English language teaching
  • Built a resume—eclectic and widely applicable
  • Broadened my connections with the university—I connected with the department staff and the broad range of people and programs taking place alongside but not directly involved with the traditional academic side of campus
  • Gave me confidence—with each new job and experience I gained additional confidence when applying for other jobs, scholarships and internships
  • Stories—I have great stories and fond memories from those times. I wouldn’t trade those for the world.
Out for a stroll on a beautiful summer day with Brigit from the Ivory Coast, who I worked with as a sighted guide.

Out for a stroll on a beautiful summer day with Brigit from the Ivory Coast, who I worked with as a sighted guide.

Like I said, these jobs weren’t always fun. Sometimes I was up until all hours, desperately trying to write both a student blog and an essay for class. Some of the work for these jobs was tedious, demanding, and dull. I also know I’m lucky—that I had the flexibility and availability to balance these multiple small jobs.

I would encourage all college students to think broadly about their job options at college. Consider what interesting things you might witness on the catering team for your university events company. Think boldly about how your skills might apply in various departments on campus—research, IT, writing, organizing, networking, etc. Be careful, of course, to maintain your focus on your academic goals. But get out there and find out just how broad your opportunities are.


Please check out my related posts "Inventing an Internship," "Networking: My Belfast Case-Study," and "The Theory of Relentless Positivity."

 

Have you held an interesting on-campus job? Do you know of particularly cool ones I’ve missed? Do you have stories of how working on campus has led directly to positive opportunities since graduation? Do you have a different perspective of work as a student? Please share your experiences and opinions here.