How Much College Students Need to Work to ‘Get By’

Photo by Olesia Bilkel / Shutterstock.com

During my college years, I worked at least two jobs every summer. My paychecks covered all my bills and helped me save up for school. I didn’t earn nearly enough to pay all of my college costs, but my summer paychecks definitely made a dent in my school bill.

College students who worked during their summer breaks in the late 1970s and early 1980s had it better than me (I attended college from 1997-2001) and much better than college students today.

According to NPR, it cost about $2,870 total to attend college in 1981-1982 — that includes tuition, fees, and room and board. Hypothetically, a working-class student back then with no monetary help from their folks could snag a Pell Grant from the federal government for $1,800, leaving the student with $1,000 in school costs to cover. Says NPR:

Now, $3.35 an hour was the minimum wage back then. So, making $2,870 meant working 842 hours. That’s 16 hours a week year-round — a decent part-time job. It’s also about nine hours a day for three straight months — a full-time, seven-day-a-week summer job. Or, more likely, a combination of both. In short: Not impossible. Far from it.

These days, you’re still likely to see college students working over their summer break, but their paychecks fall far short of being able to cover their college expenses. According to NPR, the average cost of college (at a four-year public university) for the 2015-2016 school year was $19,548. With Pell Grant awards topping out at $5,775, that leaves a student with a $13,773 bill.

So how much would a student need to work to cover the remaining college costs? The answer is alarming. Says NPR:

A student would now have to work 37 hours a week, every week of the year, at the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, to get by. Research shows that when college students work more than 20 hours a week their studies suffer. If they’re working full time, many will take longer to finish and end up paying even more.

To cover today’s costs with a low-skilled summer job? Over 90 days, a student would need to work 21.1 hours a day.

Put in that perspective, it’s a lot easier to understand why so many students are relying on student loans to help them pay for a significant chunk of their college expenses.

College doesn’t have to break the bank. Check out “5 Ways to Dramatically Reduce the Cost of College.”

Are you surprised to see how many hours a college student needs to work just to get by? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
6 Reasons Hiding Cash at Home Is a Terrible Idea

Stashing cash around the house is anything but harmless.

5 Products You Should Never Buy Generic

Generic products are a great way to save money, but sometimes the brand-name version is clearly superior.

7 Reasons Workers Age 65 and Older Have Not Retired Yet

For some, the golden years are a time to increase the gold — but their reasons for delaying retirement vary widely.

5 Reasons You Should Work for as Long as You Live

These benefits might make you think twice about retirement.

17 Surprising Things You Can Clean in a Dishwasher

It’s often easier and faster to put these household items in the dishwasher than to clean them by hand.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
10 Things Frugal People Never Buy

If you’re a true tightwad, the mere thought of spending money on these items gives you the willies.

10 Useless Purchases You Need to Stop Making

You might as well flush your money down the loo if you spend it on these things.

7 Social Security Rules Everyone Should Know by Now

Confusion over Social Security is a shame, considering how many of us will need this money badly.

If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It

They don’t make coffee makers like this anymore.

7 Social Security Benefits You May Be Overlooking

There’s more to Social Security than retirement benefits.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

14 Things You Should Stop Buying in 2021

These convenient household products come with hidden costs that you might not have considered.

What a $15 Minimum Wage Means for Social Security

A federal minimum-wage hike could affect the Social Security system dramatically.

The 6 Best Investing Apps for Beginners

If you’re looking to ease into investing in the coronavirus economy with just a little money, check out these easy-to-use tools.

Is Writing a Check Still Safe?

Every time you pay by check, you hand your bank account numbers to a stranger.

8 Things You Should Replace to Improve Your Life Today

Being frugal isn’t smart if you put off replacing these items.

6 Ways to Protect Your Retirement Accounts From Hackers

Imagine having $245,000 stolen from your retirement account — and not being reimbursed.

13 Amazon Purchases We Are Loving Right Now

These practical products make everyday life a little easier.

7 Income Tax Breaks That Retirees Often Overlook

Did you realize all these tax credits and deductions exist — or that they apply to retirees?

7 Hidden Sections of Amazon Every Shopper Should Know

These little-known departments of Amazon are gold mines for deal-seekers and impulse shoppers alike.

7 Costly Health Problems That Strike After Age 50

As we age, our bodies wear down. Here is how to cut costs associated with some common ailments.

This Is the Most Dependable Car Brand in the U.S.

This brand’s vehicles are least likely to give drivers repair headaches, according to J.D. Power.

7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco

Even if it seems you save a bundle buying Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand products, they may not be the bargain they appear to be.

7 Things I Never Buy at Costco

A bulk buy isn’t always the best buy.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.