It’s no secret that students are taking on significant amounts of debt to afford college or graduate school, with government data showing nearly $1.48 trillion in outstanding student loans as of mid-2019. But this number might be higher if it weren’t for some students offsetting the costs of college by taking on a part-time job during school.
But which students are working and which aren’t? Are some places more plentiful with jobs for students, or are there places where working while in college is rare?
To find out where the greatest number of students work while in college, Student Loan Hero looked at data from 98 metro areas across the U.S. Here are the metros where most students held down jobs while attending school.
- Students in Utah are the most likely to work. According to our analysis, 75.5% of people studying for a bachelor’s degree in Provo have jobs, while 74.1% in Salt Lake City and 71.8% in Ogden work.
- North Port, Fla., ranked No. 3, as 73.7% of students here work.
- At the bottom of the list was Syracuse, N.Y., where only 43.3% of students work and study at the same time. Another Northeast city came in second to last: Bridgeport, Conn., where 47.1% have jobs.
- Students in the Northeast seem least likely to work, with students in Springfield, Mass., and Hartford and New Haven, Conn., also appearing in the bottom 20 of metro areas with the lowest proportion of working students. Even more Northeast metros finished at the bottom, but we’ll touch on that shortly.
Where the greatest (and fewest) number of students work while in college
As noted above, Student Loan Hero found Utah dominating college employment, with the top two metro areas with the most working students in the Beehive State: Provo (75.5%) and Salt Lake City (74.1%). Ogden (71.8%), also was No. 6, ranking below North Port, Fla. (No. 3 at 73.7%), Minneapolis (No. 4 at 73.5%) and Toledo, Ohio (No. 5 at 71.9%).
While approximately 3 out of 4 students are working during college in Provo and Salt Lake City, that number drops to less than half in Syracuse, home to universities such as Syracuse University and Le Moyne College. In this city, only 43.3% of undergraduates are working a part-time job while studying for their degree.
In fact, New York is something of the “anti-Utah” in this survey, as three of the bottom five metro areas with the least working students were in New York state: New York City (49.4%) and Albany (47.7%) and Syracuse (43.3%).
Rounding out the bottom five metros with the fewest employed college students were Bridgeport, Conn. (47.1%), and McAllen, Texas (47.5%).
What about your college town?
While most of the students worked in many of the metro areas we studied, clearly there was a lot of variation. Here’s the list from our analysis of Census Bureau data:
Why are students in some places working more than others?
When considering possible causes of why students in some areas work more than others, we thought that students attending pricey colleges in high cost-of-living areas would be prone to work more than others. But when we dug into the data, we discovered the opposite.
It’s the places with the most affordable colleges that have the highest rates of working students. Utah and Florida (where a lot of students work) have two of the lowest in-state college costs in the country, with average annual tuition for in-state students at public schools clocking in at $6,790 and $6,360, respectively.
In Connecticut and New York (where fewer students work), those numbers are higher — $12,390 and $7,940, respectively — for in-state students.
We also see that Utah and Florida have some of the lowest student debt burdens, whereas New England students tend to take on more debt. The average debt for Utah students is $18,838 — the lowest of all states — while the average for Connecticut students is $38,510 — the highest.
Perhaps students attending affordable colleges feel like income from a part-time job could go a lot further toward covering costs and lowering their debt burden. If you’re taking out a huge amount of student loans, you might think a part-time college job isn’t worth the trouble, since you feel like you can’t make a dent in your principal. But if you’re managing a more reasonable amount of loans, working could get you a lot closer to graduating debt-free.
The data also revealed that Utah and Florida have significantly lower costs of living than Connecticut and New York. Again, students in low cost-of-living areas might feel that a part-time job is more effective for covering living expenses than for students residing in, say, Manhattan.
Finally, it’s possible that places where more students tend to work have greater opportunities for part-time jobs. Since these communities have larger numbers of working students, they might offer more positions that don’t require a college degree.
Should you work a part-time job while studying for your degree?
Working a part-time job as a college student has both pros and cons. With your already busy schedule, it could be tough to add employment on top of your courses, extracurriculars and other responsibilities. Plus, you want the time and energy to focus on your degree, and work can leave you feeling drained and exhausted.
But earnings from a job could also help you cover living expenses. Plus, the extra income may mean you end up borrowing less in student loans.
You might even start making small payments while you’re in school to save big on interest costs. Our student loan calculator shows that a $35,000 loan with a 6.8% interest rate over 10 years would accumulate $13,334 in interest. But by using money from a paycheck to make monthly payments of $100 while in school, you could shave two years and seven months off your repayment timeline and pocket $3,693 that would have gone to interest.
Of course, for many cash-strapped students, working a part-time job during college is a necessity. And for others, finding the time to work could be a huge money saver. Whatever category you fall into, you should be able to find part-time jobs on or off campus.
If you have financial need, you might qualify for work-study. And you could explore remote jobs that give you the flexibility to earn money online.
Not only could you make money, but you might gain insight into what career you want after graduation. And if you can show you’ve made a steady income over time, and are able to build a decent credit score, you could eventually refinance your student loans at better interest rates.
In the end, working part time might not be worth it if it detracts from your studies or makes it difficult to finish your degree. But if you can find a way to balance your studies and work, a part-time job could help you afford college and make your student loan debt less burdensome after graduation.