Kaitlyn Olvera starts the school week in the middle of her work week: Monday is her Thursday. Not only is she a full-time student taking 12 credits, Olvera works 50 hours a week.
Olvera, who has dreams of one day being a national correspondent for a major news network, never planned on working full time while attending school, though she always knew she wanted to gain as much experience in her field as possible.
After the news director from KTVN made a visit to her newscast production class, she jumped at the opportunity to apply for a spring internship at the station. Olvera had previously interned at another local station, and wanted to gain more experience in a new setting. The news director, Jason Pasco, had different ideas. Noticing the potential and enthusiasm in Olvera, he asked her to apply for a full-time producer position.
“I was on the top of a double-decker tour bus in San Francisco when I got the email from Jason asking me to interview for the position,” said Olvera. “I was scared and excited … it kind of blew my mind, I wasn’t expecting that.”
Olvera said she immediately started wondering if working full time would even be possible and if she’d have to leave her current job at P.F. Changs, which she loved; however, she couldn’t help but feel a door was opening for her, and she’d be crazy not to walk through.
In October of 2017, Olvera was officially hired as a news producer and assignment editor at KTVN, and she became one of the many students not only going to school full time, but working full time.
Gone are the days when a student could work through the summer to support themselves during the school year. According to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, or Georgetown Center, a student working full time at the federal minimum wage would earn $15,080 annually, which does not cover tuition and living expenses at most colleges.
Students that attend a college or university and don’t work have become the minority. The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 American Community Survey found that 52 percent of all undergraduate students in the US work at least part-time. In Nevada, the percentage of students working at least 27 weeks a year is higher at 60.5 percent.
The reasons a student may choose to work full time vary. However, most of the time it is not a choice, but a necessity.
Arial Wright, a pre-law major at UNR, works full time at Ginna’s Café, inside the popular sporting goods store Scheels.
“I work full time because I have been living on my own and providing for myself since I was 17,” Wright said. “I have to pay for tuition and I have to pay my bills.”
According to the College Board, the average cost of college for a student with in-state tuition is $9,410. This rises to $23,890 for out-of-state students, and it only covers tuition and fees, no other expenses like rent, textbooks, food and transportation. A 2017 survey conducted by apartment listing company Abodo found 83 percent of working students used their earnings to pay for food, 70.7 percent for books and 70.7 percent for transportation. Bills — 57.7 percent — and tuition — 50.7 percent — were also common uses for income. Housing at 49.8 percent was close behind.
Wright is not the only student relying on her full-time job to help her attend school. Megan Torvinen, a nursing student at UNR, has been working 40 to 50 hours a week at Saint Mary’s hospital to help pay for rent and tuition. She works graveyard shifts, and sleeps and attends classes during the day.
“Often the response I get from people that work part time and go to school is ‘Wow I don’t know how you do it’ or ‘How do you manage to still have free time?’” said Torvinen.
This response is something the full-time students with full-time jobs are used to hearing. For Olvera, Wright and Torvinen, the most important thing has become time management.
“Time management is your friend. Know your work and school schedule like the back of your hand and find the best times for you to do your homework,” Wright said. “Also, making sure that you save some time for yourself. Even if it’s only a little.”
For students working full time, it’s not just learning to balance work and school, but finding time for a social life and hobbies.
“[Students that work full time] make themselves think that there’s no time, myself included,” Olvera said. “We need to make use of the time we have. Every day I think to myself, ‘Am I going to make something of today?’”
Self-care and mental health is also something Olvera said she focuses on, making sure she takes time to do the things she enjoys like attending UNR basketball games, and occasionally going out with friends. In order to keep up with her busy week, Torvinen has made a habit of meal prepping and scheduling time to go to the gym.
Working double time forces students like Olvera, Torvinen and Wright to grow up faster than their peers, but the outlook many full-time student workers have on their situation is not negative or regretful. Many of them look at their busy schedules with a sense of pride and confidence, knowing how much it has benefited them.
“Finding my independence early on and being able to support myself, I’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons,” Torvinen said.
The real-life experience that working in college gives students combined with the valuable skills they gain from higher education make for a competitive job applicant. In today’s labor market, skills and experience have become the most powerful currency. It’s no longer enough to just graduate with a degree, students are expected to have as much professional experience as possible.
Students like Olvera are lucky enough to work in the industry they hope to become a part of once they graduate. Not only is she able to pay for school, rent and living expenses, but she gains valuable experience to advance her career.
“After a really long day I don’t go home and cry because I remember I am exactly where I’m supposed to be,” Olvera said.
Like Olvera, Torvinen is grateful to be gaining real-life experience. A nursing major, she is already working full-time in the field she aspires to be in once she graduates.
“It helps motivate me with school”, she said. “I can see exactly where I want to be every day going to work.”
While balancing full-time work and school can be challenging, it’s not impossible. Student’s like Olvera, Torvinen and Wright find that the people they surround themselves with, their friends and family, help keep them going.
“Communicating with my friends about my busy schedule is one of the most important things I’ve learned to do,” Torvinen said. “Surrounding yourself with good people to not only support you but keep you accountable helps you push through hard weeks.”
It can be easy to get caught up in your work and school schedule and never make time for other people in your life, Olvera said. But like Wright, she agrees that setting aside time to spend with the people she cares about is necessary for success.
Olvera’s advice to students that are considering working full time is to make sure the job will benefit them, whether it be money to support themselves or to advance their career.
“If the job is just something you can’t pass up, go for it. Just don’t slack off on your classes and don’t forget about taking care of yourself. It’s all about balance,” Olvera said.
Emily Fisher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.