As Harvard College students returned en masse to campus this fall, they were eager to reunite with friends, join extracurriculars, and explore Harvard Square. But some had a more pressing obligation: finding employment.
According to Harvard’s Financial Aid Office, senior survey data “consistently” shows that 75 to 80 percent of undergraduates work a job at some point during their time at the College. As students return to somewhat normal life on campus, many must search for employment — a task that students interviewed said has proven especially challenging this fall.
Jailene Ramos ’24, who is a first-generation, low-income student, said she always knew working outside of the classroom would be a part of her college experience.
“Before I even committed to a college, while I was even in the application process, I knew one of my extracurricular activities during college was going to be part time jobs,” she said.
At Harvard, she said, earning a salary has enabled her to “keep up socially.”
“If you don’t get a job here you’re forced to be alienated because you don’t have the financial means,” she said.
This fall, Ramos said she has had difficulty finding employment. Though she continues to hunt for more jobs, she said she was only able to find opportunities via email.
“I heard all about these from different emails — like I really live in my inbox, because I know that there’s no real centralization of information at Harvard,” she said. “So reading my emails is the only way I can stay on top of things.”
Jordan Barton ’23 said he felt supported by Harvard and its Student Employment Office as he searched for a job his freshman year. As he hunts for employment this semester, however, Barton said Harvard has not been as supportive, citing the discontinuation of in-person employment fairs and “un-updated” career websites.
The pandemic forced the SEO to modify its operations, such as moving its job fair online to accommodate students who were dispersed throughout the world.
To try to further support students during Covid-19, the SEO contacted employers to “advocate” for more remote positions so students could continue working away from campus, Financial Aid Office director Jake Kaufmann and associate director Jen Amaya wrote in a statement. Preparing for a full student-body return this fall, Harvard “increased outreach” to all employers who previously advertised jobs with the SEO, they wrote.
Aparna Gopalan, a bargaining committee member for the Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers, which also represents undergraduate teaching assistants, said she believes information about working on campus “could be better centralized.”
“I want for Harvard College to make working at Harvard to be just a very recognized part of being at Harvard,” Gopalan said.
The SEO offers employment resources through various initiatives, such as a jobs database, the Faculty Aide Program, which pairs students with faculty who are conducting research, Federal Work Study, and monthly newsletters, per Kaufmann and Amaya.
Barton explained that his need to sustain an income while at the College has reduced his ability to focus on academic learning.
“If one doesn’t have a firm or stable base economic security – like most FGLI students like myself do not have — the emphasis moves away from studies towards work,” Barton said.
Tenzin Y. Dadak ’25 is continuing her job as a virtual debate coach during her first year at Harvard. Though Dadak, who is a FGLI student, is already employed, she said she feels the “weight of having to work” as a freshman navigating classes and extracurriculars.
“I can already sense the challenge,” she said.
—Staff writer Dekyi T. Tsotsong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.