Is It Easier to Work On A Side Project While In School Or Working?

One thing I’ve had to deal with while running this blog is that I’m not doing it in a vacuum; as much as I might sometimes want to simply bury myself in my blog, there are other things going on in my life.  During the nearly two years I’ve been running this blog, for instance, I’ve had several different jobs, lived in three different locations, and recently I’ve begun grad school again.

Looking back on all this, it occurred to me that while trying to do a blog or similar ‘side hack’, you face some distinctly different challenges if you do so while you’re in school compared to doing so while working.  There are many things that are the same between both types of situations, of course; the restrictions on your time and the desire to rest (rather than keep working on a side project) when you get home being two of the big ones.  But the differences are significant, and students and workers face their own challenges while trying to build a side income.  So, let’s take a look at some of the advantages each group has while trying to get a side business started.

(Before we begin, though, one quick note: I don’t know about you, but I have very distinctive images of ‘students’ and ‘workers’ in my mind, namely a young, early twenty year old living on campus and a middle-aged fellow with a wife and kid working 9-5, Monday through Friday, respectively.  Obviously, that’s not the situation for all students and workers, and basing the advantages on those stereotypes will end up rather skewed.  In the notes that follow, I’ll try my best to not let such stereotypes influence the pros of each type of situation.)

Power to the (Student) People!

-More Time (Theoretically) Available for Side Projects: Compared to the typical 40 hour work week (at least, here in the United States), the typical college schedule is rather skimpy: 12 hours a week can let you be a full time (undergrad) student, 18 hours is a very full schedule, and 20 hours a week in classes is typically considered an overloaded schedule.  While many students have family or jobs that occupy a sizable amount of that time, in theory, they have more time than the average worker in which to ply an (outside) trade.  (In practice, as we shall see, this is not always the case…)  None of this includes the sizable summer and winter holidays that most schools offer (as well as Spring Break, if you can avoid the siren call of Cancun).

A student, hard at work.

-Access to Numerous Resources: One advantage of school campuses is that there is all sorts of useful equipment for the would-be entrepreneur.  Computer labs with internet access, professors and instructors who can help share their knowledge and possibly aid your goals, and libraries full of books (and in the modern college library, magazines, CDs, and DVDs, to say nothing of more of those computers) covering just about every subject you could need a boost in, all just outside your classroom doors.  Add to that the possibility of taking an elective or two in any number of subjects to help your understanding, and it’s hard to imagine that you can’t get the information that you need directly.  But if you can’t…

-Plenty of Other Students Who Could End Up Helping You: Perhaps one of the most important resources you have at a college campus are your fellow students.  While your skills are undoubtedly limited (don’t worry; everyone’s are), a college serves as a melting pot of individuals with different skills and talents.  You could, with limited effort, find an artist, a writer, a computer programmer (in any of the numerous computer languages that you might need), an accountant, a skilled translator, or any number of other specialized (pre-)professionals, many of whom would be happy to meet with you and help you to build your business (for the chance to share in the potential profits, of course).

So, quite a few advantages held by the students (not that surprising, given the number of companies, particularly online companies, started by college students *cough*Facebook*cough*).  But current employees have their own advantages when it comes to starting a business on the side.

Workers of the World, Unite (And Start Companies of Your Own)!

-No Homework: It’s easy to forget if you haven’t been in college for a while (I certainly did), but while the hours you spend sitting in a lecture and copying down notes/sleeping are limited, the hours you’re expected study outside of class aren’t.  Between writing papers, doing practice problems, and simply studying, it’s easy to turn preparing for your classes into a full time job (particularly if you follow the adage to spend 2 or 3 hours preparing and studying for each hour you spend in class).  While working for forty hours a week at a job eats up a lot of time, so does spending every other weekend studying for another test.  Speaking of which…

-Only One Boss (At Least, Most of the Time): It’s a rare full time student who is only taking one class (most schools frown on that type of thing), so most likely if you are a student, you have 4-6 different professors, all teaching different courses.  (To say nothing of lab instructors, supplementary instructors, TAs, etc.)  As hard as it can be to keep up with the demands of one boss, having to keep up with the studying and assignments from half a dozen professors, most of whom have no problem scheduling tests and assignments that end up conflicting, can prove to be nigh impossible.

And here we have an white collar fellow, similarly hard at work

-Money, Money, Money: As a general rule, students aren’t paid for going to school.  (Even us grad students don’t exactly rake it in.)  If you’re a full time student who’s not working on the side, chances are you don’t have much money available to put into side projects.  While there are side jobs that can be started with no (or small amounts of) money, being a full time worker and getting a regular income can give you many times as much, providing a decent starting capital for any of your entrepreneurial aspirations.  (Assuming you don’t spend more than you earn, which hopefully, if you’ve been following my blog, you aren’t.)

Alright, so clearly there are some advantages to being a wage slave who wants to break into a side project, as well.  That just leaves us with one question…

Which Group Has An Easier Time Doing Side Work: Students or Workers?

Well, as with many such questions, the answer is ‘it depends’.  As mentioned at the beginning, I’ve been running this blog as both a student and as a worker, and there are challenges aplenty in both situations.  (Even when unemployed, when limited time is much less a factor, there are difficulties, from limited money to (at least in my case) an undeniable pessimistic sensation.)

The key to starting something like a blog or any other source of passive income is to play to your strengths and use what you have available.  If you’re a student who has free time (also known as ‘time to party’) and talented, enthusiastic friends to join you, starting an online company could be your ticket to financial success.  On the other hand, if you are the typical worker, you might not have the time during the week to start another job, but you can use some time on the weekends to research investments and put your money to work.  The key is simply to apply the resources you have available to the task of increasing your income, using whatever methods seem to fit you better.  Regardless of your work/school situation, enjoy the challenge of building up a side income!

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