Why College Students Can't Afford College
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Politics and Activism

Why College Students Can't Afford College

Why it's impossible to earn a living as a student in the US

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Why College Students Can't Afford College
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In recent months, I've discovered that it's nearly impossible for a college student to make a living. I've been working minimum wage jobs since I started school at the University of the Pacific two years ago. I live on my own, pay my own rent, buy my own house supplies, pay my own phone bill, the works. While I'm sure plenty of students in the US do this as well, I know literally none at my university. I've never really had anyone to empathize or to go through it with. For the first couple semesters, I was doing okay. Due to the loans I'm taking out for school, I get a refund of almost two thousand dollars at the beginning of each semester. Though I have made a payment on my loans with some of that money, for the most part it acts as a buffer of extra money for when my minimum wage paycheck isn't cutting it for that week or that month. However, by the end of last semester, that money was long gone and I was once again relying solely on the money I get from my job at Payless Shoesource every week. This is not doable.

Since the semester ended, I've been scraping and clawing to get by with enough food to eat for the week, gas for my car, and enough money saved from each paycheck to be able to fork out rent at the end of the month. Aside from just paying for the essentials, being able to go out every now and then is crucial for someone who basically spends 80%-85% of their time in a single room with only a bed as a seating area; in other words, I need to get out.

Since discovering how impossible it is to live off a minimum wage job where I only get about 20-26 hours per week, I've been scouring the area for a new job with the same flexibility to work around my school schedule in the Fall but that also pays a bit more than $10.50 per hour. Little did I know, this was even more impossible.

I've applied to a total of around fifty jobs in the past two months. My focus when applying for these jobs was an entry level position in which the base pay is higher than minimum wage, anywhere from $12.00 per hour or above. After searching through a multitude of job sites, creating a LinkedIn account and getting their job search app, and Googling every possible job avenue I could think of in my area, do you know how many calls I've gotten back? Four. Of those four, I turned out to not be eligible for two of them.

The reason for this is primarily that entry level or non-retail/food service jobs require either multiple years of experience in that field and/or a completely open schedule in which you can work 9-5 every weekday. This is not a plausible reality for a student. Firstly, where and when were we supposed to gain years of experience in a relatively specific job field when we're still in school? I need someone to explain to me how all of these supposed entry level jobs can expect you to have a plethora of experience when you're not able to get hired without the experience? Secondly, how can all jobs expect you to have availability 9-5 every weekday as a student?

Last week I received a callback for a job as a medical scribe–a call I had been awaiting for about a month–and during the brief phone interview I was told that I couldn't be recommended for the job due to my lack of daily availability during the semester. This would make more sense if the recruiter hadn't already known I was a student before the phone interview. However, she and I had been emailing back and forth beforehand and she was well aware that I had a full year of undergrad left before earning my B.A. degree. When I then stated my schedule, which is completely full in the mornings and into the early-mid afternoons, she said that she hadn't even thought about my schedule conflicting with the time frame of the job because most students take night classes these days to be able to work during the day.

This is almost impossible if you do not attend a community or junior college.

At a four-year university you don't have the option to pick if your classes are in the morning, afternoon, or evening. Aside from the standard G.E. courses, you have set courses that you have to take to fulfill your major requirements. These courses are offered typically at only one or two times throughout the week, and not every course is offered every semester. This makes your scheduling flexibility extremely low. Most professors at my university don't want to be on campus extremely early in the morning or late in the evening, making the most popular times for classes the late morning and early afternoon. While not conducive for a work schedule, it's understandable, and it's something I've had to work around for two years. However, while trying to find a better job, it's become apparent that a job working around my class schedule is quite impossible.

I know that there are thousands of college students out there who need to be able to support themselves and pay the bills. While some of them are at community and junior colleges where they can work more with their personal schedules, I know there are also some of them who are going to U.C. Berkeley and Yale and Princeton right now who don't have the luxury of being able to take classes whenever they want, and are seriously struggling to earn a living. It wasn't until I got to college that I realized how work-centered this country is. Students are not rewarded for their hard work and dedication here, instead they're slapped with minimum wage jobs and thousands of dollars in high-interest-rate debt. Shouldn't we be encouraging our higher education students? Shouldn't they be given some kind of respect in the work force if not acceptance and tolerance? I'm two semesters away from earning my Bachelor's Degree and I can't even get hired at Starbucks. What does that say to the students who are on the cusp of making their decision about going to college or entering the workforce?

What's really being said here is that this is a country that doesn't reward or value higher education in the way that it should. In most other developed nations, higher education is free of debt and easily accessible to students of all ages 17+ who come from a wide variety of economic backgrounds. In most other developed nations there is a focus on education and putting out intelligent professionals into the workforce who are prepared with the knowledge they've gained and are ready to dip their toes into their fields. Why is it that in the wealthiest nation in the world I can't seem to make enough money as a college student to even make it through school? The days of working during the Summer to pay your way through college are over. These days you work through Summer to be able to eat throughout the semester. Instead of leaving ready for the workforce, you leave with a lack of the professional experience that most positions deem necessary, and a load of debt that keeps you awake at night. The true American college experience.

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