When Adalla Alan, then 21, was locked out of the examination hall at the Technical University of Kenya (TU-K) in 2018 over fees arrears, his world came crashing down.
Distraught, the then-second-year journalism and mass communication student momentarily saw his dream slowly fading away as he would now be required to defer studies at least for one year and hope he’d then have enough money to resume studies.
Something had to change. Through sheer luck and the kindness of a friend, Alan would embark on a journey that would change his life forever.
One year later, he was back in the lecture hall, but this time as a practising journalist - a working student.
In a study titled Learning while earning: The New Normal, Georgetown University researchers found over the last 25 years, more than 70% of college students have been working while enrolled.
From a sample size that included 14 million college students, balancing school, work, and other life priorities was identified as the single most biggest challenge faced by working students.
Working while in college can be extremely beneficial to one’s career prospects especially when the work is in line with one’s career goals.
But many students struggle to find a balance between work and school while still making time for other aspects of their lives, such as spending time with family and friends or simply engaging in hobbies.
Prioritisation is always a tough balancing act, but for many working students, there is no other way around it.
Alan, now 24, in his fourth year at TU-K) and a staff writer at People Daily Kenya, talks to us about the highs and lows of being a working student, his money management journey and how his life has changed since he made the huge leap.
The closer he gets to his University graduation day, December 2021, the more he realizes that his college experience has not been everything he thought and expected it would be. Here is how everything unfolded for him;
“In 2018, during my second year, the second semester, it happened that during exam time, those who hadn’t cleared their fee balance were locked out of the exam rooms. This is something that had never happened at the University and so personally, it took me as a shock.
Everyone who had a fee balance was prevented from sitting for the exam. I was so frustrated during that time. You can imagine being told to defer for a whole year just because you haven't cleared your fee balance. I started asking myself a lot of questions. Why me? Why is this happening to me?
With time, I accepted and had to look for what to do in order to fend for myself. I shared my predicament with a lady friend of mine who also works in the media industry to see if she could help me get something to do. She connected me with People Daily around August 2018. I did not expect it because I never considered myself a writer.
Necessity being the mother of invention, I took the offer and decided to learn on the job. I began as a correspondent back then and I remember my first salary was Ksh 4,000 from some articles I did. I was so passionate about cars, so I ventured into writing about cars. At that time, one editor was leaving and that is how I got two motoring columns in the newspaper.”
Being locked out of the exam room was an eye-opener and a blessing in disguise.” Adalla says.
Returning back to school after being out for a whole academic year and working a full-time job wasn't an easy one for Adalla but he was determined to secure the bag and the degree as well.
"In late 2019, I went back to school to start from where I left. Then, I had to be in the office 2-3 days a week. Due to the nature of my job, I also had to do interviews outside the office and since my university is in the heart of CBD, I would drop by and attend a class or two. It wasn't easy.
Covid-19 came to my aid because it showed that people can actually work from home and students can also attend classes from home. All I needed was to be updated on both my work and school schedule. That involves checking my mail every morning to see what my deliverables are for the day at work and then plan myself accordingly.
In a day, I can work for like 6 hours if I pace myself which leaves me with very little time to attend to my studies but I still have to ensure that my school work is at par," he adds.
"My day starts at 4 am. Being a church guy, prayer kicks it off. From there I freshen up and make breakfast.
As I said, I check my emails from work to see what I'm supposed to do. After that, I start thinking about what I'll be writing for the day. Sometimes it can be overwhelming. In a day I can write 2-4 articles, do research, study, or go to the field for interviews and to collect information.
I work till around 10 am, take a water break, then go back to work till 4 pm. That's when I don't have any lectures on that day. When I have lectures I have to wake up even earlier so that I can work on my day's tasks in order to find time to attend my classes.
That's how a typical day for me would look like. It takes making a lot of sacrifices
“My school work has been affected the most. In the media, you always have to be on your toes in order to get the latest and newest news updates.
Inasmuch as I value my education, more bias is given to my job. It is through that job that I pay my school fees, my rent, my upkeep, send my parents something, and do everything else.
My job has become my main priority. There are times I've missed a couple of CATS in school because I had traveled for work purposes. I’ve always found a way to catch up on my studies though.”
Balancing school and work can be stressful and like Adalla, many students find themselves putting work before school. Time management becomes even more important than in everyday scenarios.
“When you choose to go back to college and have a career, you have chosen ‘the path of greatest resistance,’ and your time is at a premium,” says Scott Vail, the author of It's Never Too Late to Graduate; A Success Guide for Non-traditional Students.
How has Adalla managed to strike a balance?
“It's very possible to balance school and work but it calls for discipline! Discipline! And more discipline!
I had to learn responsibility at a young age considering that I was just 21 years old when I began working.
Making sure that I get to attend classes on time when I’m not too busy at work and putting my best in my job when I don’t have classes helped me a lot. My grades haven’t been hurt although I missed a few classes here and there, and my work is still top-notch.
Another way that I’ve been able to strike a balance is managing my time by planning what days to complete my school assignments, being realistic about my time, and asking for help when I need it.
With a clear timetable and discipline, I have been able to manage school and work. It looked almost impossible at first, but right now I can look back and say that was the best decision I made.”
Adalla is in a unique position of being both a student with the youthful YOLO (You Only Live Once) spirit in him and being an employee in an established organization, where he is expected to know how to manage his finances. This is how managing money has been like for him.
“When I first started getting money, I was so happy. I was like, finally! But I had to realize the reason I got this job in the first place and recognize that I have needs and responsibilities that must be met. My parents are also there, they see their son on People Daily and so they know that I am making something and are also expecting me to send something.
The first thing I do is make my budget so that I avoid wasting money on unnecessary things. It makes me aware of pending bills, my needs, and through it, I can allocate funds to different segments be it rent, my parents’ upkeep, or transport.
Secondly, I have to spare some cash to go to savings. I would encourage any young person who gets any form of income to join Saccos. You can have something to cushion you when you have an emergency. Save as little or as much as you can.
Lastly, they say that all work with no play makes Jack a dull boy. It’s good to sometimes “pigia mwili pole”- spoil yourself. So I take time also to unwind and kill the monotony of work and school. You can enjoy yourself responsibly,” he adds.
“If you can get an opportunity to work, while you’re still in school whether it is part-time or full-time job, embrace it and start early. It will give you a competitive advantage later on when you’re done with school and are looking for a job.
Realize what you can handle, know your limits and that can help you feel a little less stressed and anxious.”