A student studying for an exam while on break at work.
Credit: Bonnie Kittle |
A student studying for an exam while on break at work.

The struggles of working retail while being a college student

Students who juggle jobs and school just to make ends meet while trying to prepare for a future in the workforce do not have it easy. From balancing a boss's demands to a professor's, it's always a balancing act.

Being a college student is challenging enough, but being a student working retail can be twice the challenge. No other jobs attract student employees like retail jobs. Students apply for retail positions more than any other positions, and there are many reasons why.

Working retail isn’t the most rewarding job while being a student, especially when it comes to money. Another big problem is fitting a job into a busy academic schedule.

“I always feel stuck at work, meaning I wish I could find a better paying job, but as a college student your schedule changes every four months or so and working in grocery retail, the hours are flexible,” said Maurice Goodlett, a 22-year-old junior. 

Senior Veronica Montgomery, 24, is also a retail worker who seeks better paying employment, but has not been able to due to her school schedule.

“I definitely feel stuck at my job, I am always applying for jobs, but with my school schedule it was hard for me to go anywhere,” Montgomery said. “I always get interviews, but I have to turn them down because the hours they would like me to work, just don't fit around my school schedule.”

Students feel as if the amount of work that they do does not match the pay, which makes them question if it is worth it.

“Literally breaking your back, lifting heavy boxes of water for $8.50 an hour — pushing carts, it’s not worth it,” Goodlett said. “One time we had to push carts in a snowstorm, it was three inches of snow, 12 midnight, my ride was outside — it got so bad, my mom hopped out of her car and pushed a couple carts.”

Montgomery agreed with Goodlett, adding her thoughts on the compensation.

“They don’t pay us enough for what we do,” Montgomery added. “I will never forget having my $200 checks and having to buy books for school, one book is basically my whole check.”

There are often times when students have to pick their job over school, and then there are times when students have to pick school over their job. It can be hard creating a balance between the two.

“I always find myself picking work over school at times because I need money for school, transportation, food, etc.” said Melissa Brooks, a 24-year-old criminology major. “Working part-time hours with little pay just doesn’t cut it, managers know what days I have school, but they’ll still call me if someone calls off on the days they know that I have school, but I end up skipping class at times because I need the money.”

However, Goodlett finds himself choosing school over work.

“Sometimes I’ll call off work because I find myself putting too much time into my job and not enough into school — I’m at work more days than school,” Goodlett said. “So yeah, I’ll call off work for a mental health day and just study for exams or coursework material.”

Working retail while being a college student doesn’t have to be completely bad. There can be some pros on how to get through both.

The Stater asked the students in this interview to give tips to others who work retail while attending college. These are the tips from the students listed below:

  1. Learn to appreciate the uncomfortable environment because it will make you pursue your dreams and work harder in your academics.
  2. Never lose sight of your end goal.
  3. Don’t get “comfortable” at your job.
  4. Stay humble and stay in school. You’re going to have some days where you will want to give up, but once you get your degree, everything will be worth it.
  5. Working retail will build character as you’re a student finding yourself. It teaches you how to maneuver out of hard situations.
  6. If you know you have a goal in the end, make the job work for you. 
  7. Save your money and make investments.