Balancing the books – how stressed students juggle jobs, study and play

When not studying to complete her biochemistry degree at the University of Ottawa, Nour Oudni, 23, typically works four shifts a week as a sales associate/sales coach at the Rideau Centre H&M store. In the five years since she moved to Canada from Algeria, she’s found it difficult to adjust to being on her own and to find the best balance between studying and working to support herself.

She’s not alone; in 2020, 51 per cent of Canadian students aged 20-24 were employed, according to Statistics Canada. This can lead to a rise in stress levels among students – poor mental health care doesn’t help. A 2019 survey of 55,000 students found that more than 80 per cent had felt “overwhelmed by everything to do” and close to 70 per cent felt that “things were hopeless” at some point.

For students like Oudni, having a part-time job is necessary to pay for rent, tuition and support their lifestyle. While studying full-time is already consuming, students must find ways to balance work, their studies, having a social life and taking care of themselves.

“I work so that I can help my dad, who helps finance my studies. I work to pay my rent, food and basically to survive,” says Oudni.

After five years of study, Oudni knows she needs to create time for the hobbies she enjoys such as singing, playing guitar and hanging with her boyfriend and friends.

Many schools have implemented programs to help students juggle their busy schedules and support their mental health. The University of Ottawa offers on-campus and virtual counselling options for students who are feeling overwhelmed. Similarly, Algonquin College offers counselling, wellness and peer support.

Like Oudni and so many others, Benedykt Pachla, 23, balances university and work. A mortgage advisor for CIBC, he studies part-time at the University of Ottawa, towards his bachelor of social sciences with a minor in economics.

His work day starts as early as 8 a.m. and sometimes finishes at midnight. He has been working from home, making phone calls to clients during the day and taking classes at night.

“Some people are just better at winging it, but I need to have a specific schedule and a list of things to do in order to help me get them done. It’s just the way that I work,” says Pachla.

For 22-year-old Aileigh Karson, keeping her to-do list on her laptop is the key to staying on top of things. The Algonquin College public relations student started her own business making handmade products that she sells online and at farmers’ markets. Karson also works three shifts a week in a clinic at Barrhaven Health Club as an administrative assistant and works for one hour a day at home two days of the week.

She finds stress relief from hanging with her friends and boyfriend, playing volleyball and having dedicated workout time at the gym.

“When I go to the gym, I love feeling like that’s the only thing that matters in that moment. An hour every few days to just not think about anything else,” she says.

These students’ stories are similar to many who are working hard to balance many aspects of living, studying and working. With the ever-changing dynamics of post-secondary life, it is crucial now for schools to offer resources for their students to help support them through their studies and on to a successful life and career.


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