An Open Letter to My Non-Working College Friends

Dear my non-working college friends, 

College is hard enough. Throw in a part-time job or two (or four) and it certainly doesn’t make it any easier. I have one word for juggling multiple schedules, arranging homework and study time, making sure I eat in a day, ensuring I sleep at some point, and attempting to balance a social life: EXHAUSTING.

Now, why would anyone put themselves through this, you may ask (as you often do)…?

The short answer is: many of us do not have much of an option in the matter. 

Since my freshman year of college, I have worked a total of nine part-time jobs and, at one point, juggled four of them at once. Upon getting to college, I knew I had to work to get by. Tuition aside, city rent, groceries, monthly bills, textbooks, and basic every-day living expenses certainly weren’t going to pay for themselves. I didn’t have a "college savings" to pull from and I couldn’t just ask my parents for money either. 

Managing class and work schedules is nothing short of a challenge. With some of my jobs,  there were specific times or shifts in the day available for an employee to work, therefore I had to completely build a class schedule to ensure I was available at those specific times for two or more shifts a week. This meant pushing certain courses to different terms and taking less than desirable teachers and class times. There were other jobs over the years that forced me to work obscene hours, one position in particular was a 4 am - 9 am and another was 4 pm - 2 am. These shifts left me physically and mentally drained. Despite this, I continue to push through, switching from job to job in order to make ends meet and class loads manageable (somewhat). 

 Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash

Among all of these struggles, the hardest challenge of all, my dear friends, is explaining this to you, my friends who do not have to work. 

Yes, there have been several “nights out” or events that I have had to miss because of conflicting schedules or simply because I knew I'd have to be up early the next morning for work. 

Yes, this may be hard for you to understand. You may be thinking: “Just change your work schedule,” “Can’t you just take off that day?” “You’ll be fine, five hours is plenty of sleep,” “You don’t have work today — let’s go do something!”

I wish. The truth is I can’t change my work schedule. My entire weekly routine is scheduled specifically down to the minute in order to take these specific shifts and those specific classes. 

I can’t just take off. Taking off means less pay, and often can mean not being able to buy groceries that week. Most importantly, for someone working/ in class/ studying for nearly 15+ hours a day... no, five hours of sleep is certainly NOT enough. 

Yes, my day may be clear, but there are times when I need to slow down and just rest. When you are go go go go go every hour of every day, a day of rest is all I have to look forward to. 

Photo by Vladislav Muslakov on Unsplash

As a senior, I am currently taking 20 credits a term and working two part-time jobs, totaling 25-30 hours of work a week. If I had a choice in the matter, I would not work as much as I do, but unfortunately, I don’t. If I don’t work, I can’t pay rent, I can’t feed myself, I can’t buy textbooks for my classes, and I can’t afford to go out and do the fun things you invite me to.

Sure, this may seem like I am forced to grow up too fast. Sure, it doesn’t seem fair. And all of those points are correct. But this is the reality of our lives and there isn’t much we can do to change it at this moment. 

So, my dear friends, I ask you to instead of giving me a sad look and sigh of disappointment and/or offer what you believe to be a feasible solution when I cannot attend that gala or can’t swing the happy hour this week, I ask that you give me a smile and say, “Hey, this stinks, but I understand. Keep up the good work, you’re doing great!” You’re support is everything I, or any student in my position could ask for. You may not understand our situation completely — in fact, it’s nearly impossible to do so without actually being in it with us. But an acknowledgement of the fact that we are in a tough spot and that we, ourselves, are the best judges of our priorities, is all we ask for. 

Image courtesy of Giphy.com

We are trying our best, and doing all we can to balance all of the stray pieces of our lives as working students. Whatever time we do free up, we appreciate and we cherish. We love you — we really do, and we appreciate your eagerness to spend time with us, invite us to events, and help us enjoy our time in college. The time we do spend together is fantastic — & much needed! But, trust us when we pick and choose when we go out and when we stay in, it's nothing against you! We are just tired!!

For all of those non-working students out there: be patient, be supportive, be a friend —​ & be grateful you aren’t in the same spot. 

For all of those, like me, working their butts off: Keep it up. You are doing great! Remember to work hard and push through the challenges — but most importantly, take care of yourself. Do not be afraid to stay in tonight or take the weekend to catch up on sleep. Do what you need to do — because only you know what’s best for you. 

Sincerely, your (tired) working college friend