Work while you study

Gain relevant real-world experience and valuable soft skills by working part-time, undertaking an internship or volunteering for causes close to your heart. Education isn’t simply about what you learn in the classroom. Working part-time while you study is a good way to both expand your life skills and offset the associated costs.

Studying is expensive and while the government offers a range of loans and allowances to help students, having your own source of income is a good way to ensure your loan isn’t larger than it needs to be and gives you some cash flow to have a little fun away from the classroom.

Soft skills and their importance

In addition to the monetary advantages, working a part-time job will provide you with a number of soft skills. These are the types of skills that aren’t taught through books and lectures, but are highly valued by employers in all manner of industry. Soft skills can be a good measure of emotional intelligence and help employers understand how well a potential employee will fit within their organisation.

They can be linked to everything from how they deal with teammates, authority and key stakeholders, to their ability to take constructive criticism, levels of self-awareness and capacity for personal and professional growth.

Types of soft skills:

  • Communication
  • Creativity
  • Decision-making
  • Leadership
  • Problem solving
  • Self-motivation
  • Teamwork
  • Time management
  • Maintaining the balance

Working while studying is a good way to relieve financial pressure and gain knowledge, as well as limit your reliance on a student loan. However, it is important that your part-time job doesn’t take up more of your time and energy than you can afford to devote.

For this reason, many students find work at their university. With the limited budgets most institutions are working within, hiring students is an economically viable way to get the work done, while providing their students with money and valuable experience.

Roles exist within many different departments, from assisting in the computer and science labs, to doing clerical work.

Volunteering, internships and working for free

These are various ways to build your repertoire of soft skills, gain experience or develop a portfolio of work.


An internship is designed to give students the opportunity to understand the day-to-day mechanics of performing a role in their field. In some degree programs, an internship is a mandatory undertaking.

For an internship to be considered legal under the Fair Work Act 2009, it must satisfy a number of criteria. First and foremost, it must be beneficial for the individual, with an emphasis on learning.

Secondly, the length of time an intern spends at a workplace should be less than 6-12 months, depending on the context. Thirdly, the tasks performed by the intern must have a relationship to their course of study. Done through a program with set rules and regulations, the benefits of an internship are tipped towards the intern, however, the position is usually unpaid.


Usually for charitable and philanthropic organisations, volunteering can be a valuable undertaking for students. The volunteer may gain intangible skills, such as maturity and empathy, however the work itself is normally solely for the benefit of the organisation and those it helps. Volunteer work covers a wide range of areas, providing people with opportunities to help people in need, animals or the environment.

Working for free

Providing work for free is done with a view to attracting future employment and building a portfolio of work. It is generally performed by writers, graphic artists and people who may be required to provide work samples. It can be hard to gather a portfolio of commercially relevant work as a university graduate, so many people will provide gratis projects to convince an organisation to employ them.

Meet an intern: Amy

Why did you choose to do an internship?

When studying a communications degree at university, it is drilled into you the importance of industry experience. So I was really keen to gain as much as possible to be a step ahead and work out what I want to do.

What have been the best aspects of your internship?

Gaining experiences in different fields of the industry has helped me work out what I enjoy most about it and what I do not plan to pursue after graduating. As a result, I have become more motivated to get to the place I want to be and feel more confident that I can.

What have you learnt that you didn’t expect? Are there any surprises?

I didn’t expect to learn as much as I have and there is still a lot more to learn. As well as practical skills, I have come to understand how communications businesses operate, which cannot be learned from the classroom and I can now see how I will fit into the industry once I graduate, and how I will get there.

What advice would you give to students considering an internship?

Take every opportunity you can. Directly working in and being part of the industry you are pursuing is crucial and also really fun. It helps to specify what career path you want to take once you have graduated, and ensures you are as prepared as you can be for any role you might encounter.

Useful links:

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Five Five benefits of completing an internship