It's a Friday night at the USC Village Target. A group of students is laughing and planning for the night ahead. For one of these people, sophomore English major Stefania Tibor, the decision to have a night out is more complicated. For many college students, enjoying a Friday night is a no-brainer, but for Tibor it is a rarity.
As a working student who pays for her education, managing her time is difficult — she is usually never free. And before she can commit to going out with her friends, she has to find someone who will cover her shift at work.
Tibor is one of many USC students who juggle a part-time job on top of her full-time class schedule. Her 20-hour work week as a server can be manageable, but when work extends beyond the classroom, it is a real balancing act that often prevents her from enjoying the full college experience. Tibor feels that she is often working so much to pay for USC that she is not able to take advantage of the opportunities offered there.
Tibor said working students are expected to keep up with the same school load as those who don't have to balance a heavy work schedule, singling out many who have to work to pay for their education.
Georgetown University released a study in 2015 that revealed 70 percent of college students work while going to school. Approximately 40 percent of undergraduates and 76 percent of graduate students work at least 30 hours per week, and 25 percent of working students are both enrolled in school full-time and work full-time.
"It kind of feels like the world is against you," she said.
The USC Kortschak Center for Learning and Creativity tries to help students manage their busy schedules. The center is located on the third floor of the student union and provides students with training tools, coaching and programing, depending on their learning level.
Each student in the Kortschak Center is paired with an academic coach to help the student with time management.
"It sometimes gets into the deeper meaning of, 'why are you working so much' or 'what [are] your priorities,'" Ryan Terao, a post-doctoral fellow at the center, said.
For students like Tibor who get some financial aid, working is a necessity to stay in school.
A typical day for Tibor begins with morning classes, which start as early as 10 a.m. She's in-and-out of classes until 3:20 p.m., with one 40-minute break in between. After class, she commutes straight to work, which is about one hour away in Huntington Beach, her hometown.
While working as a server, customers are often surprised that she works to pay for her education. "Having a guest tell me, 'you put yourself through USC?? Now we HAVE to at least tip 20%!' will always be music to my ears," she said.
Tibor works until about 12:45 a.m. and drives 30 minutes to get back home near USC's campus. Once she gets home, it is time for her to finish as much homework as possible before she falls asleep.
Homework that she can't finish at night, she will try to finish the next day. "I really only have those 40 minutes between classes to get all of my homework done," she said.
Tibor is able to function with this schedule, but she admits it can be exhausting.
Terao said the Kortschak Center tries to accommodate and work with students' to help create a manageable schedule.
However, some students say visiting the center can be difficult. Working students like Tibor have busy schedules with small breaks that she said are best used for catching up on schoolwork.
Tibor is not only a full-time working student, but a first-generation student.
According to a 2011 study by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, first-generation students have a lower chance at graduating in four years than students whose parents have higher education experience.
Solomon Singer, who is working toward his master's degree in marriage and family therapy, works with the first-generation student group at the Kortschak Center and has noticed a small number of working students using the center.
For first-generation college students juggling both work and school, "their presence on campus quickly becomes just class. Getting connected to these resources, or even joining a group such as the first-gen group, that we have, is something that's foreign and often times they didn't even know that it's available," Singer said.
Gina Ibrahim, USC alum and Internship and Diversity Programs Advisor at the USC Career Center, helps students find positions and internships that align with their area of study so they get work experience that will help them after graduation. She said most students don't know about all of the available resources like the career center.
"I think the biggest challenge was not knowing where to go," Ibrahim said reflecting on her student experience at USC, "I didn't utilize the career center until my senior year."
The Dream Dollars Program, a program that awards $1,500 to students who secure an unpaid internship, is run by the career center as well.
But internships aren't the only opportunities Tibor said she missed out on. She sacrificed a social life that most college students get to indulge in. She thought about rushing, but said she knew it would be impossible given her time restraints. Joining a sorority would have required her to take a week off from work, and the dues would make it more difficult for her to pay her bills.
Tibor said she's had to take on the responsibilities of an adult from the the moment she graduated high school.
The Saturday before her graduation, she had a job interview.
Monday, she took a drivers test and passed.
Tuesday, she bought a car with her life savings.
Wednesday was the last day of class.
Thursday she had orientation for her job.
Friday, she graduated.
The following day was the first day of her new job.
"From the minute I turned 18, I just took everything on," Tibor said. "I always have. Never haven't. Pay for my own gas. Pay for expenses here, textbooks, anything that falls between the cracks with tuition," she said.
Raised by a single mother on a low income. She says that her mother put her in charge of her own financial responsibilities, which is what pushed Tibor to get her first job.
"Every step has been terrifying honestly, taking out loans, committing to an expensive private school, and so on, but, I would not change any of it, even though having loans (which, thanks to FAFSA and USC financial aid, are fairly low), is burdensome," Tibor later wrote in an email to Annenberg Media.
After college, Tibor wants the opportunity to get a job where she is able to use her writing and analytical skills. For now, she will have to continue her work as a food server instead of doing something directly related to her English major.
Tibor says it is helpful when professors understand the struggles working students face when pursuing a college degree, but it is also important for the student body to help support one another as well, especially those who, in addition to going to university, are working to support themselves.
"Being that I am responsible for everything financially, and anxiety regarding money will always be with it, had it not been for my financial aid package and my best friend's constant encouragement and reassurance, I would have never seen myself become the person I am today," she said. "To my fellow working students, it's hard. And I respect you a lot for what you are doing."