By Brendan Straub, Christina Hershey & Kaylea Granville
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writers
What this story covers
When classes are over, students increasingly don’t go back to their dorms and apartments — they go to work. Juggling school and a job isn’t easy, and many wonder if colleges could do more to help.
Why it matters
Students who work often don’t have time to take care of themselves. They get little sleep. They have little time for a personal life. And that can have serious mental health implications.
College is stressful. Working a job is stressful. When you combine both of them together it can be overwhelming. Many students at Towson University and across the country have no choice but to work while taking classes. Tuition costs continue to increase and many students take out loans to pay for college. That means getting a job is a necessity just to get by.
Working while in school can lead to exhausted students who have little time for self-care, let alone a social life. That’s a problem, as 18 to mid-20s is the age when many mental health problems first arise. Although the stigma around mental health is decreasing on many campuses, some students still don’t feel comfortable — or think they have the time — to seek help. Instead, they put their heads down, take a full load of classes, work mornings, nights and weekends, and silently suffer the consequences.
In this podcast, we examine mental health among working college students. How much do students work? How much does working and taking classes take a mental toll? How can colleges help ease working students’ burden? We answer these questions and more.
What can students do?
- Apps can be a way to manage stress. Calm, Headspace and Moodpath are a few examples of apps available to help reduce stress, anxiety, depression and boost one’s confidence. Moodpath, for instance, asks users to periodically answer questions about stress levels and emotional health. The convenience of an app is ideal for the working college student’s hectic schedule, but it has its limitations, namely the lack of a human connection.
- Websites like ULifeline are geared towards college students who are dealing with mental health issues. ULifeline, described as an “anonymous, confidential, online resource center, where college students can be comfortable searching for the information they need and want regarding emotional health” is a project of The Jed Foundation, an organization working to protect the emotional health of America’s college students. The Jed Foundation offers ULifeline to all colleges free of charge.
- Students can — and often should — see an in-person counselor. Matthew Wagner, 23-year-old former Towson student and current grad student, said finding a counselor you like can take some time. “It’s one of those trial-and-error processes, and you have to be patient with yourself and with the process in order to see it through. I’ve had a total of 10 therapists, and it’s taken me some time to figure out what I want, what I need to get out of it. I’ve even had to leave therapists that were great for a certain phase of my life, but they weren’t meeting my needs anymore as I grew and changed.”
What can colleges do?
- Colleges across the country are seeing record numbers of students come in for counseling sessions. That means that counseling centers are at full capacity. Towson and other universities are using group sessions and peer groups to see more students. Schools like Hamilton College have taken a new approach of having counselors available 24/7 on the phone.
- Provide work-study opportunities so that students can get paid while staying on campus. These jobs don’t require residential students to commute for work, sometimes allow students to do homework while working, and often have bosses who are understanding of students’ school schedules.
What can lawmakers do?
- One obvious way for legislators to help students is by increasing the minimum wage, as students often work entry-level jobs that pay little. In March 2019, Maryland became the sixth state to raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next several years. Many college students work restaurant jobs, so getting paid beyond a paltry salary and tips is critical.
Colleges can also increase the number of work-study jobs and promote them to students. These jobs allow students to stay on campus rather than commute. It’s also more likely in many cases that supervisors understand students’ class schedule and are willing to accommodate them.