Balancing Work With Education

Person sat working in centre of a clock
Alice Bennett

The cost of rent and bills have increased, and university leaders warn that students are at risk of being the “forgotten group in the cost of living crisis”. Does this mean that they have to miss out on internships and skip lectures in order to do paid work? Reflecting on her own experience working alongside her studies, Alice delves into the topic of students prioritising paid work over university and the consequences for both their education and well-being.

As a masters student, I don’t receive a maintenance loan. Instead, I receive a lump sum from the government that covers my tuition and about a third of my rent. Not even including bills and other expenses, this already means I have to make up a large amount of money. 

I know that many students have to take part-time work at university to get by – my case is nothing special, and I was lucky not to have to work during my undergraduate degree besides during the holidays. But the cost of living crisis has massively increased the pressure on students who are barely affording rent, causing problems with attendance and reports of poor mental health. 

I constantly felt on edge, particularly if we were […] spending a fair amount of money

Missing out on internships

The kind of internships that I want to do tend to be unpaid or extremely competitive if they do pay, so doing any kind of relevant work experience over the summer before my masters was a tall order. I knew when I applied for a masters that I would have to earn money for rent over the summer, so I didn’t mind. But now I’m in the process of applying for jobs, and wish that I had a bit more experience to put on my CV.

Some degrees require students to undertake internships, many of which are unpaid. There have been calls in Australia to put an end to it as a number of student drop outs because they can’t afford to spend their time doing unpaid work. This is also an issue in the UK, as students who are required to undertake an internship as part of their qualification for less than a year are not legally entitled to national minimum wage.

Instead of doing relevant work experience, I spent most of my summer working at a shop. For those of you who have worked in retail, you’ll know that it’s incredibly tiring – both physically and mentally. I noticed that whilst I was working there, my anxiety was worse than usual. When I met up with friends I constantly felt on edge, particularly if we were doing something that involved spending a fair amount of money. 

I have been under a lot of stress, especially since I’m also trying to apply for jobs


For some reason – maybe the feeling of missing out during the summer – I decided to do absolutely everything this year. On top of my masters, I have a part-time job, an internship, a blogging job and an editing role at Impact. Whilst I’ve enjoyed keeping busy, I do wish that I could have a breather sometimes. Although my job at the university libraries is far less stressful than retail, it does take up time that I could be spending resting and looking after myself.

As many other masters students I’ve talked to have said, the pressure to pay rent and bills at the same time as undertaking quite an intense masters course does take a toll on your well-being. In fact, a survey by the NUS reported that 90% of students said the cost of living situation negatively impacted their mental health.

Even though I’ve gotten used to the workload and enjoy everything I’m doing this year, I have been under a lot of stress, especially since I’m also trying to apply for jobs because (as I’m sure many final year students will agree) there is an expectation to have the perfect role secured as soon as you graduate.

I assumed that a few shifts here and there at my part-time job would be enough – but was I wrong!

Extra expenses: bills

Perhaps I was in denial, but I didn’t even consider the issue of the energy crisis in the UK when I was saving up for rent during the summer. I also didn’t factor in the costs of transport, higher prices of food and at least a little bit left over to do things I enjoy. I assumed that a few shifts here and there at my part-time job would be enough – but was I wrong! 

Last month, myself and my housemates had the nasty shock of finding out our January energy bill was over £100 each. This came as a particular surprise to me as I’d only arrived back at university at the end of the month. Throughout my whole university experience, bills have never caused me stress and I’ve never had to make a conscious effort to reduce expenses. We’ve had to ban the dishwasher and reduce the use of the dryer by hanging up our clothes instead. I’ve also become obsessed with making sure every light switch is off.

It’s not the end of the world if I have to hand-wash my dishes, but the combination of all of this contributes to stress even more, and takes up more of the little free time that I have.

All of this culminates in the increasing number of students who have had to skip lectures and seminars

Missing Lectures

This is not unique to students – many households across the UK are struggling to make ends meet with the massive surge in energy costs. However, these are all important topics to discuss as all of this culminates in the increasing number of students who have had to skip lectures and seminars in order to do paid work, with reports of students working full-time jobs as well as part-time. 

I know several masters students who have done this, including myself. Whilst I have only missed a couple of lectures that I knew were going to be recorded, it still means I have given myself extra work to do in order to catch up in my free time when I could be resting or doing coursework.

As well as the cost of living crisis directly contributing to students skipping lectures to do shifts, the mental toll the pressure takes also has meant that I, and likely other students, have been more tired and ill more often, leading to missing even more of my education. If it’s gotten to the point where students are missing out on their education simply to fund it in the first place, something needs to change.

Alice Bennett

Featured image courtesy of Kevin Ku on Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

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