Last week, the Life on the Hill bloggers had our first on-campus meeting for the Fall 2014 semester. Usually I attend these meetings in-person. However, I wasn’t on campus last week because of my participation in ILR’s NYC Fall credit internship program. As result, I could only attend the meeting via Skype. Still, the whole crew was very friendly, and I met all the new students who joined our team this year. We even got together for a group picture before running off to our classes (or, in my case, to another meeting):
I greatly appreciate the Life on the Hill blogging team for allowing me to continue as a blogger off-campus. As some of my older readers know from previous posts, I rely heavily on my work-study allocation and on-campus jobs to make financial ends meet. While scholarships and federal financial aid pay the bulk of my tuition, other costs like housing, textbooks, meals, and the like come out of my family’s pocket. Having jobs on campus allows me to pitch in and pay for some of those expenses myself.
In past posts, I’ve talked about how difficult it can be for students to find jobs or work-study employment in Ithaca. The Life on the Hill student blogger position isn’t a work-study job, but it pays monthly and the work is flexible enough to maintain easily alongside other work-study employment on campus. It isn’t the highest paying job I’ve had, but it is the only job which isn’t site-specific. That means I can do the work at any time and at any place, so long as I finish before the end-of-the-week deadline.
As a Freshman, Sophomore, and Junior undergraduate student, I never considered flexibility to be a quality more valuable than pay in an on-campus job. Sure, it was a factor to consider; flexibility was extremely important in balancing my academics and work. Ultimately, however, a higher pay meant that I could cover my bills in a shorter time frame, making it a necessity rather than just a convenience. I didn’t mind walking in the snow for several miles each weekend to a job site if it meant I could cover my expenses within a week, instead of within a month.
Being able to eat tomorrow always trumped being able to sleep in today.
Nevertheless, I kept the student blogger job anyway because it was easy to maintain and I enjoyed writing. As a Senior, it is now the only job (aside from my internship) which I still have. I never would have predicted as a younger student that, of all the jobs I would come to have, blogging would be the only job I would retain by Senior year. What I never considered back then was how on-campus employment changes when you participate in an off-campus alternative program. Suddenly, that job which is just a few miles away in the snow is now an impossible 200+ miles away. The jobs which aren’t site-specific are now the only jobs you can have because you no longer live on campus.
Participating in an off-campus program isn’t without its costs, either. You still have to pay tuition and, although you maintain most of your financial aid package, it can be modified in ways you weren’t expecting. For example, my work-study allocation was severely reduced and a federal loan was added to make up the difference. Other students experienced similar changes, as well. It’s difficult to predict what your tuition costs will be for an alternative semester because of these variances. As result, it can also be difficult to prepare for, making student employment even more critical in covering tuition.
Furthermore, while you might not have a housing contract with Cornell, you still have to pay for housing and meals. In my case, my internship is located near my family’s home and I can live there. However, other students needed to rent out apartments in the city–a huge cost. In both cases, there is the added worry of transportation. Train and bus tickets, accumulated every day for 14-16 weeks, can easily add up to a sum equal to or greater than what you would spend traditionally on textbooks.
Cornell doesn’t surprise you with these costs; when you apply, Cornell representatives will tell you time and again that you need to have a financial plan for surviving the semester before accepting any internship. However, those representatives can’t warn you of these costs in your Freshman year, when you are looking for work-study employment and haven’t even considered alternative semesters. You have to anticipate that need for yourself and consider more flexible employment which can accommodate for that special semester.
I was lucky to have this job when I was suddenly acquired my current credit internship. I didn’t scramble at the last minute to find employment I could retain alongside my internship off-campus. There were no hurdles or obstacles; I simply continued working with Life on the Hill as if nothing had changed. Now it helps me pay off my train tickets each month, bringing me to and from my internship every day of the week. It doesn’t pay nearly as much as my prior on-campus jobs, but it covers the one expense I can’t reduce by moving back home, making subtle lifestyle changes, or applying for a new financial aid package. For that financial security, I am especially grateful.
So I have some advice to give to younger students currently looking for on-campus jobs. I still maintain the belief that jobs with better pay and some flexibility are the best positions you can acquire on-campus. It pays the bills the fastest and, while it may not be convenient, it won’t interfere with your academics. However, if you are at all thinking about participating in an off-campus program at any time during your undergraduate career, put a heavier weight on job flexibility in your job search. Look for non-site-specific jobs in Cornell’s job postings and around campus. Try them out while you’re still on-campus to make sure you like the work and that the work is manageable. Ask if the position can be held by students participating in credit internships, study-abroad programs, and the like. Taking the time to research these opportunities in advance will save you a lot of trouble when you want to transition into an alternative program later on. Don’t get caught without a job at a time when you really need it. The alternative is to save up your money so you can go without working for a semester or, even harder, forfeiting the alternative semester opportunity altogether.
Instead, be prepared. Take the well-paying job now but keep an eye out on those other, more flexible positions. Doing so will keep your academic opportunities open. For students with similar financial needs to myself, this diligence is a necessity.
Not a convenience.