Chart: Can You Still Work Your Way Through College?

Chart: Can You Still Work Your Way Through College?

# hrs required to cover tuition

Now we get a little bit of interactivity with our chart, thanks to the work of the good folks at PBS. It goes a long way to answering the question “Can You Still Work Your Way Through College?” with the ability to input some of your own data.

If you could, in fact, work your way through college it would in some sense be the easiest path to take. No scholarship applications to filter and fill in an already busy senior year of high school, no loan worries pinning you down in your early career, less college selection headaches, no threat from families and charities and other institutions to take certain coursework or make a certain GPA to merit their funding, no military stint in the Afghani desert hanging over you. So… how likely is it that a person can forego all of the above, select a school, and pay the bills through traditional employment income?

Let me encourage you to pull up the chart and play around with some scenarios. Note, as we’ve previously seen elsewhere, that students at expensive schools earning minimum wage can’t possibly expect to pay the bills on the basis of work alone, whether part time or full time. As the authors of the article associated with this tool notes: “Looking at four-year public institutions and using our assumptions for hours worked and income, average college costs actually could have been paid for until the 2000-2001 school year. After that, a student would have to work more hours or make more per hour to keep up. But if a student chose a private school, minimum wage on average would never have covered college costs. And even if a student worked full time throughout the year, he or she would only have earned enough to pay a private institution for the 1978-79 and 1979-80 school years.” And even at that the chart’s expense assumptions only included tuition and fees, so the student needs to take into account additional room, board, and travel costs.

Students who still wish or need to rely on employment to pay their tuition bills need to concentrate both on spending less on college and making more money for their output than the typical low end worker. We’ve already explored three strategies to earn extra income in college: to join the ranks of the self employed, to convince mom or dad to use their labor toward free tuition, and to kick off a dorm room enterprise. In our next Tip of the Week post we’ll also explore a way to earn increased pay for school via a more traditional employment setting.