“What Does Being a Working Student Mean to Me?”: A Reflection on My Experiences


August, 2020

By: Sara Sanabria

My name is Sara Sanabria and for the past two years I have been a research assistant for the Hard-Working Student study. As mentioned in the ‘About’ page, the study aims to contribute to a better understanding of the experiences of working students. As we ask students tough questions regarding balancing work and studies, I too have had an opportunity to reflect on what it means to be a working student. And while being a working student means very different things to different people, I decided to end my time with the study by sharing some insights on what being a working student means to me.

One of the things I realized is that working while studying means having a place to escape from school and life’s stresses. By having a time and a place to sit down and focus on something completely unrelated to my classes, I can take a mental and emotional break from constantly thinking about assignments and papers. In the long run it helps me to avoid burn out and to stay passionate about what I am studying.

Another thing I have come to realize about being a working student, is that many working students see their work as temporary. This was definitely the case for me when I worked in the retail and service industry. I saw my job as something I did on the side for money, and I always went into a job knowing that I would eventually leave it. Consequently, I usually took on a ‘put your head down and work hard’ mentality and accepted mistreatment or poor working conditions because I figured, “what’s the point in demanding better from my employer if I’ll be gone in a few months?” So, I accepted conditions that led to mild skin burns, long hours with no breaks, having my hours cut with little notice, and more. During my time with the HWS study, we organized a ‘Rights at Work’ event, and to my surprise, I discovered that there are support systems for working students such as worker’s unions and legal protections. However, I also learned that working students typically do not participate in unions because again, a lot of us see our term-time work as temporary. In the future I hope to be more assertive and to stand up for safe and fair working conditions for myself and my co-workers.

Lastly, as I head into law school and start a new job search in a new city, I reflect on how working while studying means having a sense of financial stability and how important it is for me to have a source of income while I study. I am privileged to have some support from my parents and the school, but even so, I know that without working it will be difficult to make ends meet. I know this is a reality for many students and so I share a sense of solidarity with others who are working hard to make a brighter future themselves. I am thankful to have been part of this study as I am certain it will go on to inform future policy and hopefully make a positive impact for other hard-working students.