While on any given Thursday evening, most students might be hanging out with friends, going to a jazz night in the mug, catching up on reading or just catching up on sleep, a typical Thursday night last semester for Matt Ortile ’14 consisted primarily of finding a place to sleep. Fall semester, Ortile left campus every Thursday and Friday to intern for Town & Country, a Manhattan magazine.
“Finding a place to sleep was really hard, but luckily I had friends in the city who let me crash on their couches,” said Ortile. He soon realized that not having a comfortable place to sleep would be only the beginning of a number of sacrifices he would make in the light of his new internship.
“I had to give up a class for my major to make sure my Thursdays and Fridays were free and I had to cut back on dancing with VRDT and FlyPeople and I had to leave the Miscellany News just so I could get some sleep. It was hard, but in the long run I told myself that it would be for the better,” he said.
Ortile, an aspiring writer, said he knew that taking the internship would be a great way to jumpstart his career, and for that reason he could not pass it up.
“I was able to liaison with PR companies, put together photo shoots, help with big projects that would go into print,” said Ortile.
This added pressure and responsibility, he said, is not necessarily a feature of many work study jobs. Ortile insisted that while having a work-study job can be the right thing for some students, there are things which cannot be learned within the confines of Vassar’s student employment opportunities.
Assistant Director of Financial Aid and Student Employment Brianne Balzer highlighted this benefit of off-campus work by drawing on her own experience. She wrote in an emailed statement, “…In college I had both a work study job and an off campus job; but my off campus job working with taxes and financial aid is the reason I am where I am today. I saw both jobs as an opportunity to make money, but I saw the off campus job as a possible future opportunity and a great resume builder.” She continued, “[Another] benefit may be that a student who finds a job off campus does not have an earnings limit, and may have the opportunity to work all year, whereas campus employment has various restrictions.”
For Layla Fassa ’15, working at Babycakes gave her this kind of flexibility.
“I could make more money and work more hours than at my work-study job—tips provided instant cash every week. I usually stay on campus for breaks, and an off-campus job provided employment for those times. Mostly, I wanted to learn how to make delicious espresso drinks,” said Fassa. When she first began her employment last September, however, Fassa quickly realized her job would require more of her than just concocting high-caffeine beverages.
“I experienced difficulties for the first few weeks of my job because I bit off more than I could chew, working between 16 and 20 hours a week. I finally adjusted it to a more manageable 8-12 hours a week. It was much more taxing than my previous work-study job…because I was on my feet all day and always had something to do,” she said. Though Fassa ended up cutting back her work schedule to reflect something more comparable to a typical student’s work study timetable, she noted it was valuable for her to come this realization herself.
She said, “Although holding this job seriously reduced my free time, it was important that I discover those limits on my own, instead of having my time capped by the school.”
For Ortile, his time spent away from Vassar and his busy lifestyle came with its own pleasures. “The big benefit for me was that it was like my version of going abroad. I spent enough time away from Vassar to be apart from it and miss it,” he said.
While his internship gave him the chance to get a taste of life outside of Vassar, Ortile realized that being a Vassar student, too, is an opportunity not to be missed.
“One of my higher bosses was at Town & Country was aVassar alum and she said, ‘You’re doing really well, you have a long career ahead of you—but you have the rest of your life to do this. Enjoy your time at Vassar while you can.’” he said.
There is a balance to be struck, however, between on-campus and off-campus life. Fassa believes students do not all have to go as far as the city to experience what she described as a fresh outlook on Vassar.
“I think the Poughkeepsie community is a major untapped resource for practical and social connections. I was forced to talk about things other than my current classes, professors, and this weekend’s all campus party. Although most of us working were students, a liberal arts college experience is radically different from that of a part-time community college student, or that of a specialized school like the CIA,” she said.
Of her overall work experience, Fassa said, “I think the benefits far outweighed the cost to my own free time. I learned what it was like to work in a restaurant, and now I always tip well.”
Though Ortile echoed her cost versus benefit attitude, but also advised, “If you do [take on a job or internship off campus], it’s worth it but be prepared to make a lot of sacrifices and work really hard. But if it’s what you want to do, it’s not going to hurt you in the end.”