The USA is by far the most popular destination for students worldwide, with over 1 million overseas undergraduates studying in the country, according to the 2019 Project Atlas data. This is twice as much as the United States’ closest competition on the list – the UK, China, and Canada, with nearly half-a-million international students each. Of course, the pandemic must have changed these figures dramatically, but the trend remains. This is due not only to the unique academic offerings of American colleges but also to the job opportunities.
Being a student – international or not – is expensive. Between tuition fees, room and board, books, and stationary, you usually don’t have a choice but to take up some form of employment. For the international students, however, there are some limitations.
First of all, if you study here on a scholarship, you should check with the conditions of the grant if you are allowed to supplement your budget. Second, most study visas (F1, J1, etc.) limit your pool of employment opportunities. They only allow you to work part-time (no more than 20 hours a week) during the semester and full-time during the breaks. Also, you are only allowed to be employed on campus.
Some exceptions can be made on a case-by-case basis. For example, CPT (Curricular Practical Training) allows you to work off-campus in partner institutions if the job is related to your field of study and provides practical experience to bolster your studying. Another case is “severe economic hardship,” when you lose part of the funding you relied on when you planned your studies or other unexpected circumstances arise.
Marcelo Barros, an international student career expert at the University of Oregon, warns about part-time job opportunities dwindling in the wake of the global pandemic. However, he warns against losing focus and broadening your search. This will only diminish your chances. Instead, Barros advises job seekers to focus on areas they fit and keep trying even after they hear 100 no’s. Opportunities will present themselves to the persistent candidates.
Still, for the overwhelming majority of international students, job offerings are limited to their campus – which is not as restrictive as one might think! In fact, there is quite a list of attractive options. Here are just some of them.
Tutoring or mentoring
This is one of the most lucrative opportunities paying over $20 per hour on average. Of course, for that, you must excel in your field of study. Probably, this is not something you will be prepared to do during your first year. However, suppose you have taken advanced classes in some subjects back home. In that case, you can be on par to provide tutoring to struggling first-year students. Moreover, if your first language isn’t English and it is offered in the curriculum, you are equipped to help others learn it from the get-go.
Many students don’t feel confident enough to assume the role of a tutor to fellow students, but let me tell you: peer learning is the future. Moreover, as an international student, you will be able to share different studying techniques and perspectives on learning with others. This is just as important as helping them with course materials and reading assignments.
This role is similar to a tutor but is more formal since you will have to work as one team with the instructor for a particular course. You will look over the classroom activities, lead classes during practical sessions, or even mark the student’s assignments.
Of course, you must have advanced knowledge of the subject and some practical experience in the field to assist your professor. That is why TA is probably not for the first-year students.
Nothing is wrong with a bit of freelancing. For example, if you find yourself an exceptionally prolific paper writer, you can put the excess of your creative powers to good use working for an essay writing service. This is not only a great way to earn a buck but also valuable practice allowing you to hone your writing skills. Of course, you should have excellent English proficiency to do this job.
However, even if English is your first language, you should not overestimate your resources. The study load, in general, and the bulk of writing assignments, in particular, can be very demanding, leaving you a meager amount of time and energy for monetizing this particular skill. The good news – freelancing is as flexible as it gets, so you can take up assignments when you have some extra time on your hands and skip them when you are too involved with the classwork.
Each campus usually has a number of canteens and cafes where you can find part-time employment in various roles. You can become a barista at a campus coffee point. Some of the perks here include discounted coffee and practice in small talk. As many students will testify, caffeine is a fuel they run on. As for the chatting, Cathy Merlo, a career adviser and MBA program manager at Northeastern University in Boston, names the inability to maintain small talk as one of the “cultural hurdles” that can hold you back as an international student. In fact, small talk is an integral part of the American business and hiring culture, so it will come in handy during future job interviews.
Depending on your skills, you can also apply as a catering assistant, chef, or cleaner. These options are very flexible in terms of hours and fulfill the “on-campus” requirement. Plus, they can be a bonus on your resume if you plan to work in the hospitality industry in the future.
Babysitting or dog walking
Perhaps, these are not the typical “on-campus” jobs but hear me out. They can be arranged with the faculty. Some of them live on campus. Some spend significant time there, bringing their small children and pets along. Not every campus has a much-needed childcare facility. Still, most campuses have staff who need daycare arrangements for better work-life balance. You can be the missing link in this chain.
This type of job requires minimum hard skills. However, you still must have some experience looking after kids (for babysitting) or being good with pets (for dog-walking). At the very least, you should have younger siblings, nephews, nieces, or other family members you helped to raise. Anyway, don’t rule out these types of gigs if that’s something you are good at. Opportunities open up for those who seek them.
Campuses do have shops, you know! You can look for employment in one of the bookstores, mini-supermarkets, or campus shops that sell school merchandise like branded hoodies and baseball caps. This type of job is an excellent opportunity for an international student because it’s flexible, well-paid (about $20 per hour), and allows for perfecting your people skills. The latter will be highly beneficial for your future quest for permanent employment.
Among the perks of this particular job, I can name employee discounts and the ability to invest your downtime in reading for classes on quieter days.
If you are a bookish kid but that opening in the bookshop has already been filled, how about working in a library? Of course, you need a relevant degree and training to be a librarian. However, to be an assistant, you just have to be organized and attentive to details. The library assistant’s work includes shelving books, helping students to find materials they need, and making book recommendations.
Maybe it’s not the most lucrative opportunity on this list, but if you ask me, this is a dream job. Why? Because you don’t only earn about $13 per hour but invest your time in your future academic success. You build your research skills by looking for books and materials for other students. You gain a deep understanding of how catalogs work and where to find anything you might later need for your own research project.
One of the most fun jobs, although not the most lucrative ones. The average wage is about $11 per hour, but the responsibilities are enjoyable if you love your school. This position is particularly fitting for a people-person and entertainer at heart. Your duties would be promoting your college to prospective students and their parents and guiding tours on open days. You will entertain visitors with fun facts about the school and share your knowledge to help them decide if this is the college of their dreams and how well they would fit here.
There is a caveat, however. You can only apply for this role in your second semester or later, which is understandable since you must know your way around the campus.
Another great option for a people-person here! Depending on the college, resident advisors get paid or have a significant discount on room and board. Either way, an RA position is worth considering as a source of financial relief. You will have to receive some basic training first.
Your duties will include supporting students living in residence halls on campus, mediating disagreements between roommates and residents, creating a safe and inclusive housing environment, easing the transition from living at home for new students, and enforcing dorm rules. You will also lead residential activities, organize get-togethers, etc.
Department/research study assistant
These are some of the most sought-after jobs among ambitious students. Not only because they are well-paid ($15-17 per hour on average), but because they allow you to put a foot in the door of a career in academia. However, even if you don’t plan to continue your career as a researcher, these jobs will give you a plethora of valuable transferable skills.
As a department assistant, you will provide secretarial service for your department, handle intradepartmental matters, and supervise projects. The key competencies for this position are problem-solving, tech-savviness, and communication. As a research assistant, you will fill a similar role. Depending on your department’s specifics, it may include more hands-on tasks. For example, maintaining lab equipment, conducting routine checks, collecting data on the experiments, etc.
This is by no means an exhaustive list! Keep looking around, and you will find a perfect part-time job that will support you financially, build your hard and soft skills, and be fulfilling. However, you should remember to maintain close contact with your university’s office of international student services to make sure the job you are about to apply for is in compliance with your student visa requirements. You should not compromise your non-immigrant student status. Whenever you have any doubt, consult your university’s representative.