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Working May Help Your GPA

Study finds link between part-time jobs and better grades


Applying for spring semester’s work-study jobs begins today; office work is one of the choices. Photo by Amy Laskowski

Refereeing, catering, tutoring — you name it, you can probably work it. For most BU students, a part-time job is a necessity, for others it allows for some extras.

Applying for spring semester’s work-study jobs begins today. And believe it or not, a part-time job might improve your classroom performance, as well as put some money in the wallet.

Melissa Cottrell believes it. She has a work-study job at the Office of Residence Life, where she answers questions, types documents, and runs errands. She puts in 12 to 14 hours a week, and also babysits on the side.

“The busier I am, the more focused I become,” Cottrell (SAR’10) says. “Working really makes you more structured; you have a lot of things to do in a short amount of time, so it’s important to keep up with it all.”

A recent study backs her up. “Parental Transfers, Student Achievement and the Labor Supply of College Students” in the Journal of Population Economics reports that students who work part-time have slightly higher grade point averages than students who don’t work.

Four-year college students working 20 hours or less had an average GPA of 3.13, versus nonworking students, who had an average GPA of 3.04. But the benefits were reversed with too much multitasking: students who worked more than 20 hours a week had an average GPA of 2.95.

With two-year college students, the differences shifted. Students who worked more than 20 hours a week had the highest GPA, at 2.94, compared with students who worked under 20 hours a week, at 2.93, and students who didn’t work at all, at 2.82.

The study used a sample of students from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997, a report designed to document the transition from school to work and into adulthood.

The authors of the recent study don’t speculate about why working may improve a GPA, but it could be because adding another commitment to a busy schedule requires better time management.

“My colleagues and I definitely agree this is the case,” says Mary Ann French, the director of the Student Employment Office.

“When you only have one thing — school or work — you kind of think that you can push it off, watch TV, go out; you have the illusion that you have all this time,” Cottrell says. But when you work 15 hours a week on top of school, “it makes you step back and helps stop procrastinating.”

Work-study is a federal program that helps qualified students cover educational expenses. Student Employment also has a list of jobs for students who do not qualify for work-study.

No one is saying that working and attending school full-time is easy. Cottrell recently had a hectic week managing work, finishing a huge project, and getting sick to boot. When she feels stressed, she takes a break. “I walk away,” she says, “and make sure that I plan something fun to take my mind off of it.”

Despite the study’s insights, French has a few words of caution for students: school should remain the priority. If you can’t balance both, work should go, she says, because “school is the reason you are here.”

Amy Laskowski can be reached at amlaskow@bu.edu.


5 Comments on Working May Help Your GPA

  • Anonymous on 11.30.2009 at 9:53 am

    Interesting study, and the possible explanation could make sense.

    Alternatively, it’s possible that the choice of whether or not to take an additional responsibility and work part-time says something about how motivated, focused, or efficient a particular student is. So maybe if somebody has / was brought up with these traits, they are more likely to work harder in school and maintain a higher GPA, as well as to find the time and motivation necessary to work a job.

  • Anonymous on 11.30.2009 at 4:46 pm

    Wise not to try to explain

    It could be that wealthier students are more likely not to have jobs AND more likely to go to college with a lower GPA…. students who HAVE to work part time may come from a hgher GPA pool… students who have to work 30 hours are unable to achieve thier best ….. or some other things entrely different :)

    • Anonymous on 03.14.2015 at 3:26 pm

      Typically, the rich kids are those that get good internships with low work hours. Those that work more than 20 hours are the working poor whose working/middle class parents are not willing to chip in to their education expenditure.

  • Anonymous on 12.04.2009 at 8:13 am

    I definitely agree with the idea that kids that get part-time jobs would/could be the more motivated.

    Correlation is not causality, you social scientists!

    Also that 2 years college students difference between those working more or less than 20 hours getting 2.94 and 2.93… You might want to check out the statistical significance of .01.

  • Anonymous on 12.31.2009 at 12:02 am

    school and work

    those who need to work to attend school tend to appreciate what they have recieved in an education. As to the statistics, interesting but no causal connection made. However, as an employer as well as a BU student, I will hire the student that has work experience first – a practical point to ponder. Interesting to note that I obtained a doctorate of law while working 40+ hours per week and I am currently working about the same now while obtaining a masters in a related field with a 3.85 GPA – so much for statistics….

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