Double Burden – Studying and working in Potsdam in 2022

Reading time: 6 minutes

double burden - study and work
Campus Neues Palais Potsdam

THINGS TO KNOW More than half of all German students have a job while studying. This brings more than just financial benefits. The double burden on young people, most of whom study full-time, is enormous – but not impossible to keep up. 

Potsdam. 55 hours. Over a year and a half, that’s how much time Tom* spends studying and working in an average week. “It felt like I was busy from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day,” the 24-year-old says in an interview today. Since his second semester, he has been working jobs alongside his studies, whether as a waiter or a student trainee. Now he has his bachelor’s degree in business informatics in his pocket. He’s about to start his master’s degree and – of course – work on the side. When asked how Tom endures this double burden, he answers with, “You just have to do it.”

Note: This article was written as part of the seminar “Journalistic Writing” at the University of Potsdam. For the short portraits of the three people mentioned, I conducted brief interviews before the seminar began. Their names* were changed afterwards.

Full-time job versus full-time study

Those who “work full time” usually mean a workday with 40 hours work a week. That’s eight hours of work a day, five days a week. The term “full-time study” is also based on this. Here, students spend about 40 hours a week studying. Or to put another way: Studying becomes a job.

Nowadays, few students talk about hours of work when describing the time spent on their studies. At the University of Potsdam, only “credit points” count, with one credit point comprising about 25 to 30 hours of work. For regular full-time study, students must work off 30 credit points in a semester. This corresponds to 900 working hours in half a year. So it is not unusual for students to work nine hours a day, six days a week, during the lecture period. This is significantly more than a 40-hour job. Nevertheless, more than half of all German students have a job. But do you really have to put yourself through this stress? Can’t you do it without a part-time job?

Lea* is 19 years old and is in her third semester of German teacher training in Potsdam. She is not doing any additional work. She gets by well with her ‘Bafög’, the German government’s financial support for education, and the support of her parents. “I’m not in financial straits,” she says. She doesn’t see any other reason to go jobbing. A fortunate situation for the student, who can thus concentrate fully on her studies.

“I would be afraid that my studies would suffer.” With that, she addresses a serious problem of working students. And she talks about a fellow student who always works so much during the semester breaks and on the weekends that she has enough time during the week for all the lectures and seminars. Lea can’t imagine this kind of work for herself at the moment.

Campus Neues Palais Potsdam

Nevertheless, she has already thought about the requirements for a future job. The 19-year-old clearly believes that work should be adapted to her studies, not the other way around. In the future, she is prepared to use free afternoons, weekends or semester breaks for a part-time job. However, this is only possible on condition that it does not harm her studies. To do this, she says, the workplace must be close by or at least easily and quickly accessible. Home office is also a possibility for her. “I think,” Lea emphasizes, “that most students don’t work until they are in higher semesters. If they can then properly assess how they can still continue their studies effectively.

Job offers for students

One of these students is Elisa*. The 22-year-old chemistry student is already in her third year of learning at the University of Potsdam. She works around 16 hours a week on the side as a working student at the nearby Aldi. The working student concept is specially designed for students who want to continue giving priority to their studies. Here, they are an integral part of a company, but do not pay social security contributions up to a certain number of working hours. A working student thus has the opportunity to earn some extra money in a simple way that is adapted to his or her studies.

Elisa is also enthusiastic about this concept. She describes her workplace as “very student-friendly.” On a regular basis, her employer asks her if the agreed-upon working hours also fit into her schedule. On average, the 22-year-old works two to three times a week and five to eight hours per shift. Of course it’s exhausting sometimes, stocking shelves and always being friendly to customers. But she doesn’t get stressed out about it.

Discount stores are among the most common places of work for students in Potsdam, along with delivery services, restaurants, warehouses and various municipal facilities. Often, hardly any previous experience is needed here to successfully start a part-time job. Those who still have difficulty finding a job that suits them can use the job placement service of the Studentenwerk Potsdam. Here they are always looking for office assistants, babysitters, (geriatric) nursing assistants, and various temporary help. Or you can try your hand as a working student in marketing, finance, consulting, product management and so on. The list of possibilities is long.

Students who specifically want to gain practical experience for their course of study have the opportunity to work as a student assistant. In this case, the student is employed directly by the university and is generally paid according to the number of hours worked. The preparation of seminars or assistance with experiments or administrative tasks also brings many advantages for later student and working life.

Not only do companies have ever-increasing demands on young professionals. A part-time job can also improve one’s own skills and teamwork abilities. And ultimately, it can perhaps point your future career in a completely new direction. What are my strengths and weaknesses? What do my colleagues do that makes them so successful? Can I really imagine working here all my life?

Independence can be difficult

Campus Neues Palais Potsdam

For Elisa, another aspect plays an important role. Independence from her parents. Her job at Aldi is a big step toward independence, she says. Not only can she finance her apartment and groceries herself, but she also doesn’t always have to rely on her parents for other expenses and hobbies. The 21st Social Survey of the German Student Union revealed monthly expenses of around 819 euros for the average student. A mini-job of up to 450 euros a month is not nearly enough for this. But it can be a milestone toward a bit more self-determination, in addition to ‘Bafög’ support from the state and support from one’s own family.

In contrast to Elisa, Tom’s decision to work alongside his bachelor’s degree from the second semester onwards is primarily for professional reasons. After six months of waitressing for twelve hours a week, he starts a one-year teaching position at the university.

However, the 24-year-old only really feels stress as a working student in digitization. For 18 months, he works 20 hours a week alongside his studies. That’s half the time that full-time studies take up in addition to a job. “You have to be tough,” Tom says. “You have to want to see it through.” Over and over, he talks about “commitment” (dedication or commitment). Those who work while studying, he says, must not show any inner weakness. Just do it.

At this point, about a quarter of Tom’s fellow students are facing the same pressure. But the student knows that not everyone can withstand this strain. Physically or mentally. Or both. “It’s called full-time study for a reason,” he points out, “so it’s tough, it really is.” But what’s the alternative for those who rely on that financial mainstay? Tom’s answer to that: “You just study longer.”

Nowadays, the standard period of study of usually three years for a Bachelor’s degree is by no means the rule anymore. Due to the corona pandemic since spring 2020 and the associated online teaching, students have been granted an extra semester of standard study time. And rightly so: Only the very few manage to complete their Bachelor’s degree in three years. And not just because of a part-time job.

The double burden under control

Organizing yourself during your studies is by no means easy. Preparation, seminars and lectures, follow-up, exam preparations. All this has to be reconciled with everyday tasks and errands. Especially since a little free time should also be left over. Especially in the lower semesters, independence can still be difficult. How are you supposed to work and study at the same time? As with almost any other problem, the Internet has a lot of tips to offer. A written schedule with sufficient buffers is a must. Modules could be specifically planned, postponed or omitted. Working hours would be adjusted.

But beware! Health always comes first. In case of emergency, students can still change jobs or studies. So anything is possible. Even full-time studies can be combined with a student job, which is often useful in many ways.  If students have enough stamina and good planning. But whether a job alongside studies ultimately exceeds the scope of one’s own possibilities is something that everyone must decide for themselves.

Tom will continue to work a part-time job while studying for his master’s degree at TH Brandenburg. Despite all the stress, he does not regret his decisions. His intentions have changed, however. Now, with enough experience and a bachelor’s degree, he says the pressure on him from the self-imposed double burden isn’t quite as great. “I work that I can finance my [current] standard of living.”

Campus Neues Palais Potsdam

My conclusion after this little research: It’s worth thinking about a job alongside your studies. But not everyone is made for it. Sometimes there simply isn’t enough time.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

* Hallo1

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.