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Using time effectively as a student

When I was at college, many of my associates had part time jobs, or worked during school breaks. The jobs were often unpleasant, uninspiring, and poorly paid ones, such as food preparation. Some were better, such as bureaucracy. But they were generally much worse than any of the jobs we would expect to have after graduating. I think this is normal.

It was occasionally suggested that I too should become employed. This seemed false to me, for the following reasons. There are other activities I want to spend a lot of time on in my life, such as thinking about how to make the world better. I expect the nth hour of thinking to be roughly as valuable regardless of when it happens. If I think for a hundred extra hours this year, or a hundred extra hours in five years, I still expect to have about the same amount of understanding at the end, and for hours in ten years to be about as valuable either way.

Depending on what one is thinking about, moving hours of thinking earlier might make them more valuable. Understanding things early on probably adds value to other activities, and youth is purportedly a bit helpful for thinking. Also a better understanding early on probably makes later observations (which automatically happen with passing time) more useful.

This goes for many things. Reading, learning various skills, writing. Some things are arguably even more valuable early on in life, such as making friends, gaining respect, and figuring out efficient lifestyle logistics.

Across many periods of time, work is roughly like this. It is the total amount of work you do that matters. But between before and after graduating, this is not so! An hour of work is worth a lot more to you after you can get a well paid and highly productive job.

Suppose I want to do some of activity A and some of activity B. If activity A is a lot more valuable in the future, and activity B is about as valuable now or in the future, all things equal I should trade them and do B now, if I can.

One might retort that work before graduating will get you a better wage after graduating. However, so will the same amount of work after graduating, and it will be paid more at the time. Yes, you will be a year behind say, but you will have done something else for a year that you no longer need to do in the future.

Work makes a lot of sense if you have pressing needs for money now and no ability to borrow, or a strong aversion to indebtedness. My guess is that the latter played a large part in others’ choices. When I was at school in Australia, most youth whose families weren't wealthy could get enough money to live on from the government, and anyone could defer paying tuition until they had a good income later.

It seems that college students generally treat their time as low value. Not only do they work for low wages, but they go to efforts to get free food, and are happy to spend an hour of three people’s time to acquire discarded furniture they wouldn’t spend a hundred dollars on. This seems to mean they don’t think these activities they could do at any time in their life are valuable. If you are willing to trade an hour you could be reading for $10 worth of value, you don’t value reading much. When these people are paid a lot more, will they give up activities like reading all together? If not, it seems they think reading is also more valuable in the future than now, and the relative values are jumping roughly in line with the value of working at these times. Or that the value of reading diminishes on very short time scales, so regardless of the value of the alternatives being traded against it at different points, it is valuable to do a little every week (like eating). This seems unlikely, but perhaps I am missing something. I posit that students should value their time roughly as highly before graduating as after, as long as they have activities they consider as valuable as work to do at some point in their lives, which they can trade in to do before graduating without much loss.

Comments (1)

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Comment author: LaurenMcG  (EA Profile) 10 January 2017 08:24:14PM 0 points [-]

Has anyone calculated a rough estimate for the value of an undergraduate student's hour? Assume they attend a top UK university, currently are unemployed, and plan to pursue earning to give. Thanks in advance for any info or links!