Earn while you Learn: McGill Students with Part-Time Jobs

Photo: Evelyn Dom

Even with the help of scholarships and financial aid offered by McGill, many students still struggle to pay for university. Costs include: tuition, rent, textbooks, and food, and many do not receive financial support from their families to use toward these expenses. For a large portion of McGill students, the solution is to take on one or more part-time jobs in Montreal in addition to their studies. The Bull & Bear sat down with some of these students to discuss the unique challenges they face, in balancing work with student life.

As of 2012, a study conducted by the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (Quebec Federation of University Students) found that over half of full-time university students in Quebec also had jobs, and that over 40 percent of undergraduate students worked for more than 20 hours per week. Across Canada, 56 percent of all undergraduate students were working jobs in addition to attending class. In this study, 43 percent of students noted that working had negative impacts on their studies.

Over half of full-time university students in Quebec also had jobs, and that over 40 percent of undergraduate students worked for more than 20 hours per week.

The Bull & Bear interviewed Sandy Chopko, an Administrative Officer at the Scholarships and Student Aid Office, about McGill’s work study program. The program accepts students based primarily on financial need, and acts as a marketplace to match students with potential employers on McGill campus or with McGill-affiliated organizations. The McGill-affiliated employers are eligible for wage subsidies through the program, creating what Chopko described as a “win-win” situation for both students and employers in need. Chopko believes it is advantageous for students to be placed in jobs on campus, stating “students don’t have to waste time commuting to and from work, and most positions accommodate students’ academic schedules.”

One U2 anthropology student, ‘Danielle,’ whose real name has been changed to accommodate her privacy concerns, found a job through the work study program. Recounting poor treatment in a past job experience, Danielle explained: “I have worked jobs outside of the work-study program and find that the McGill work protocol/student union really makes a difference in terms of work environment and conditions.” She expressed gratitude for this program’s existence on campus and the support it provides eligible students. “I know many talented, bright and hardworking students who would have a difficult time attending McGill if this program did not exist,” she stated.

Still, despite these advantages, Danielle explained the challenge of balancing work with school. She admitted: “The hardest part is time management … having a job has forced me to perfect my time-managing skills and to prioritize what I need to do.”

An American first-year student who will henceforth be known as ‘Amanda,’ has a job through McGill’s work study program as well as a second job off-campus, and is applying to a third job elsewhere. She is responsible for paying her own university tuition and does not receive financial assistance from her parents. Amanda shared her difficulty in paying McGill tuition, describing it as “better than a lot of American schools … however compared to Canadian or Quebec students it’s ridiculously high.”

The hardest part is time management … having a job has forced me to perfect my time-managing skills and to prioritize what I need to do.

Amanda told The Bull & Bear that her grades have occasionally suffered from dedicating her time to working. She disclosed that she has had to skip class and miss deadlines for assignments on more than one occasion because of work. She explained that working several jobs in addition to class is “definitely difficult when you have a lot of deadlines, and … really difficult during finals.” Amanda also lamented that many of her peers do not understand her need to work. “If you’re working that many hours while you’re in school, you’re not doing it because you want to,” she said.

U3 Psychology major Sophia Thierry described her own experiences with working as a student. In her time at McGill, Thierry has worked as a piano teacher, swimming teacher, tutor, research assistant, and caregiver. In contrast with other working students, Thierry believes that working has actually contributed to a sense of balance in her life. “Working is a part of my life and it’s important to me,” she explained, “it makes me happy.”

While Thierry finds her work rewarding, she must work in order to pay her bills and stay at McGill. This year she moved from the McGill Ghetto to what she described as “the middle of nowhere,” but now feels more financially stable. She admitted: “In the ghetto … I was working like a crazy person … and all of my money would go to hydro.” Thierry expressed that she now feels able to save and spend money more freely with much lower rent and utility bills outside the McGill Ghetto.

Working is a part of my life and it’s important to me … it makes me happy.

Thierry was not eligible for the work study program because she did not meet the requirements of financial need. “I didn’t qualify, but they didn’t take into account that I wasn’t getting money from my parents,” she said. Amanda also noted that this was a concern for many of her peers, because students with parents above a certain income bracket can be disqualified from the work study program despite not receiving financial support from their parents.

Thierry’s description of her working experience admitted a lack of free time and relaxation, but she still remained very positive about her experiences. Although she works out of need, she recommends the experience of working or volunteering to all McGill students. She said: “Although it was chaotic, although I didn’t watch Netflix, I didn’t have any … moments to chill, I learned a lot and I had good opportunities and I’m grateful for those.”

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