Hayden Huffman and her youth volleyball team won 1st place at the National “Big South” tournament in Atlanta, GA

Working Part Time While in College: A Balancing Act

Two times a week, after her classes and a couple hours of studying, UNC-Chapel Hill junior Hayden Huffman drives to Hope Valley Baptist Church to coach her youth volleyball team.

Like 70 percent of college students in the U.S. Huffman works part time to pay her bills. Unlike most of those students, she considers herself lucky that her job involves the sport she has played since she was 12 years old.

“I was offered to coach through my referee job because I coached at the director’s middle school and she asked me,” Huffman said. “So, I accepted not really knowing what I was getting myself into. But, a few weeks in I realized that I really loved coaching, almost maybe more than I love playing.”

Affording College while Maintaining a Balance

Huffman’s parents both work at a small hospital in Holden Beach, N.C. and fund her education with help from the financial aid she receives from the federal government.

Although she receives some money for school and books from her parents, to pay for all her expenses, Huffman needs to supplement her income by coaching the eighth grade girls team for Chapel Hill Area Volleyball Club.

“It’s a source of income for me,” Huffman said. “That way I’m able to buy groceries, pay rent next year — when I have my own apartment — and just do other enjoyable things on campus.”

According to a 2015 study by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, about 40 percent of undergraduate students in the U.S. work at least 30 hours a week.

“It is a lot sometimes,”

Although most weeks Huffman works only about six hours, during 10 weekends in the spring when the team travels to tournaments, she might work 12 hours a day for two or three days straight.

On tournament weekends, Huffman said it is hard to find time to study and do homework while also working.

“It is a lot sometimes,” she said. “So sometimes I have things to do after a big tournament and if I don’t have time to work on it at the tournament sometimes I do feel rushed.”

Like the 14 million American college students that work while in school, Huffman said she has to be very organized with her time.

“Usually, I like to plan ahead and like to get things done ahead of time,” she said. “So for example, if we leave for a tournament on Friday, I’ll go ahead and get my quizzes out of the way for Friday and Monday. That way I don’t have to worry about it for the weekend.”

Many college students who work part time understand the fight to balance coursework, and a social life with work, but with a minimum wage of $7.25 an hour some students have to work almost full time to make ends meet.

Even if these students work full time for two semesters, they still won’t make enough money to pay for the $24,898 UNC-Chapel Hill estimates it will cost an in-state student for tuition, room and board and other expenses.

Student Loans and Work Ethic

Even with her job as a volleyball coach, Huffman still had to take out $10,000 in student loans.

According to a report by the loan guidance organization LendEDU, loan debt for students in the U.S. reached $1.52 trillion in 2019 — the biggest collective debt for Americans behind mortgages.

In North Carolina, students borrowers graduated with an average of $26,164 in debt, the 14th highest debt per borrower in the nation.

Even though the toll of her debt has weighed on her, Huffman said she will continue to work hard because her coaching role model, her father, always told her to work hard for what she wants.

“If you want something in life then you have to work hard towards it,”

During the recession in 2008, Huffman’s dad lost his job and her family had to move from Hickory to Holden Beach, N.C. Although her dad was unemployed for some time, she said giving up was not an option for him. To this day, she emulates his persistence and attitude towards life.

“I look up to my dad a lot when it comes to not just sports but I guess like life and everything because, I’ve seen him go through hard times and he’s always been a rock for the family,” she said. “Like when he’s coaching, it’s similar to the way he lives life. It’s just like, ‘I’m not going to let anything drag me down unless I don’t deserve to have it because I haven’t worked hard.’”

In fact, in many ways, Huffman said she views life similarly to how she views volleyball.

“If you want something in life then you have to work hard towards it,” she said. “It’s fair. If you want more playing time in volleyball for example, or you want to be one of the starters who plays all the way around, then you have to work hard in your sport and  earn your spot and your position.”

This work ethic is something she has had all her life and something she channels into her coaching. Someday, she hopes she will be able to channel it into the courtroom as a military lawyer in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps.

“I like learning about the cases, they’re super interesting to me and just the fact, even if you’re on the defense or the offense, you’re helping someone in whatever way and you have to believe their story no matter what,” Huffman said. “In terms of giving back, I think I want to do military law in that sense because I’m serving my country and the military has always been something I’ve been interested in.”

At the end of the day, Huffman is just one of millions of students struggling to pay for the myriad expenses of college in any way that they can.

Luckily, she loves her job and she loves the sport.


Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, Balancing Work and Learning: Implications for Low-Income Students, 2018