On the Flip Side: Is Working as a Student Worth It?


By Thea Gonzales

On television, working as a full time student looks so simple. Veronica Mars was a barista at a cafe while she aced all of her advanced classes and simultaneously solved a mystery a week. Scott McCall from Teen Wolf worked as a vet’s assistant while also being a werewolf and balancing his supernaturally inclined girlfriends. But for those of us who work around 20 hours a week, reality is a lot less entertaining.

At the start of last summer, I was starved for a job. Everyone seemed to be doing awesome, productive things with their lives while I was finishing up The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix and funneling Doritos into my mouth. I did the half-hearted online application dance that most high school seniors did to be employed under the plethora of minimum wage service jobs that were offered to us. It was no surprise when no one got back to me: I was basically a fetus in the working world and I had absolutely no job experience.

On a whim, I applied to Meatheads in Lincolnwood and got a job as a front of house (FOH) employee after seeing a hiring sign in the window at the end of the summer. If you’re thinking of applying to a job, make sure that you see the manager or talk to someone from the place of business immediately after completing your application. Also — I don’t know if I was just unprepared and everyone else knew this but — make sure that you know your social security number and all that important information before walking in to apply. If you leave the social security spot blank, your potential employer is going to think of more disadvantages than advantages when hiring a high school student.

Meatheads was great. While it was stressful and took up a lot of my time, it was an environment in which I could practice to be an adult. Meatheads was a training space wherein I could rehearse how to behave when dealing with strangers; it allowed me to exercise my responsibility. For that, I will always be grateful. But after a month and a half of working there, I couldn’t handle balancing work with all the other aspects of my life.

I know what you’re going to say. Yes, leaving after a month and a half was kind of lame. Why did you apply for a job if you didn’t think you could take it blah blah blah?

I agree. Leaving after a month and a half was kind of lame, especially because I had just started to make meaningful connections with my coworkers and the customers at that point. But in addition to having to take care of my dad– who had just had a heart operation– I had to think about my workload at school and my commitment to extra curricular activities.

“I quit because of scheduling. It’s impossible for me to juggle school and extra curricular, so adding a job was pushing me to my limits,” Richmond Landicho, senior and former employee at Blaze Pizza, said.

With the weight of my family, my academics, my extra commitments, mental/emotional health, and social life, I just couldn’t handle it. Why would any high school student want to apply for a job knowing that they have other things on their plate? Like most things in the world, the driving force was the money.

“I started working so I could save some money for gas when I eventually start driving and so I could help pay for college and save up so I don’t have to work during college my freshman year,” senior and Skokie Park District employee Elizabeth Witt said.

Most high schoolers take on part time jobs because they want to gain a little monetary independence; everyone has the goal of saving for college in mind. Or at least that goal is present before taking a look at their first paycheck and then toward the 12 tabs of Amazon open on their computers.

Money is something to note if you’re on the prowl for a part time job, but let’s face it. As a high school student, you’re going to be paid somewhere around the minimum wage range and though that does earn you significant pocket change depending on how many hours you work, would it contribute remarkably to your college fund? And for my seniors out there, is it really worth sacrificing your last year over?

Some people work crazy adult hours and still go to school. Sam’an Herman-Griffiths, a senior and employee at Oberweis/That Burger Joint, has been working for 30 hours a week for 8 months. When I asked if he had any tips for student workers, he said, “Get used to barely sleeping.”

So maybe you don’t want to go that route. Maybe 30 hours a week isn’t your cup of minimum wage coffee. Here are a few tips I learned from asking others and from my own observations during my learning experience at Meatheads.


1. Think about someone you love when dealing with a difficult customer

It’s strange, but I’ve found that this Thea-patented technique is the most useful strategy when you’re taking someone’s order and you want to self-diagnose yourself with high blood pressure because a customer is giving you deep-veined thrombosis.

Pretend that person is someone you love. This could be your dog, bae, abuela — whatever works. If you pretend that you’re talking to someone you love, your features immediately soften. You can be assertive and also make your point in a way that is not harsh but loving. If you pretend that you’re talking to someone you love, you instantly become 12 times more genuine.

2. Bring work to do during break

People will think you’re weird when you spend your hour off of work to annotate The Stranger or figure out limits when h is approaching zero on a napkin. But you’ll be getting work done (at work). Even if it’s something small like briefly reviewing vocabulary for Spanish, that’s 10 minutes of studying that you’re saving.

3. Routine helps

“Usually work plus homework equals no sleep. It’s stressful at first, but you develop a system. You need to be responsible, hardworking, and focused,” senior and former Blaze Pizza worker, Asha Lodhia, said.

Whether you decide to do your homework before or after work, find a time and a routine that works for you.

4. Unwind before work begins

This is a must. If you go to work stressed or exhausted, it’s going to be a long day.

“After getting home from work, I would take a 5 to 10 minute power nap and eat a chocolate bar and drink coffee afterwards. That way I’d have some extra energy to do homework, and coffee and chocolate does make me happy. You definitely need to be responsible and determined to balance your work,” senior and former Blaze Pizza employee, David Bittar, said.

5. Make friends

This can really help! When you are feeling down at work or need someone to cover a shift, it helps if you have friendly relationships with the people you work with. And you get to learn more about a new group of people, which is really cool.

6. Be honest with yourself about time


You’re going to be tempted to. There’s Netflix, there’s ice cream, there’s hanging out with friends. And then there’s your job. Don’t do it.

“I would say to work if they are able to balance their time with school, social time with friends and family and after school activities. It can be hard especially for me because I’m involved in various activities but I make sure to at least for 2 to 3 times a week. In order to manage the stress, I try my best to work ahead and finish my homework for the following day that I have work early or I utilize my study hall time and really focus on finishing my homework and study for upcoming tests. A student would definitely need attributes such as time management and complete focus Do not procrastinate! I’ve made those mistakes and I’ve regretted it because I’d be up after work late at night finishing my homework,” senior at Niles North and former employee of TCBY Jazmyn Trinos said. 

Working as a student is entirely possible, but it is a lot to put on your plate. If you decide to take on this task, know that it’s going to be hard at first. You may never get used to it. And while it does have its advantages, take care of yourself first.

“Learn your limit. If it is just too stressful, then try to get less hours or quit if you have to. Always remember your job right now is a student and that should come first,” senior and former Blaze Pizza employee JD Kim said.