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With the economy at a serious low, more and more college students are finding that scholarships and savings just aren’t cutting it to make ends meet. The only problem is, searching for the right job to fit a school schedule can seem like trying to make chocolate milk out of orange juice.With the help of a few “successfully employed” USF students, we’ve put together a list of the most popular college jobs and the pros and cons of working them.

Food Savvy

Riding high on the popularity list is working as a server or host(ess) at a restaurant. While a majority of those who work at these establishments admit that the hours can be crazy, ranging anywhere from early morning breakfast shift to after-party-hours late shift, the key advantage is the money.

“Tips. That’s why I’m still there,” said junior Jenna Gawthayne, a server at Chili’s in Palm Harbor. She said the employee discounts and benefits package are good too, although she uses the campus health clinic instead of paying for her employer’s health insurance.

She said that she can walk away with the equivalent of $15 per hour on a good weekend night – which, according to Gawthayne, is a welcome paycheck to someone who is making about $2.50 per hour on paper.

Gawthayne began her stint at Chili’s as a server but said that quite a few members of the restaurant’s wait staff started out at the host stand. While an interested job-seeker may want to decline the front-door position, Gawthayne said that a busy restaurant is not the perfect place for an inexperienced server. She said hosting presents the perfect opportunity to build up the skills necessary to juggle many customers at once.

“The hours really suck, though. I’ve been stuck before on Friday nights until after three in the morning,” she said. “Then again, we do close a lot earlier during the week, so it’s not too bad if it’s only on weekends.”

Gawthayne said that another obstacle is stingy or unruly customers.

“I’ve had customers who have forgotten to leave me a tip,” she said. “And others who are so kind to leave me a couple cents over the actual bill. How nice.”

Clever Calling

While many employers are struggling even to keep the employees at hand on the payroll, there always seems to be an abundance of call center positions – not to be confused with the call-during-dinnertime telemarketers. In general, call center representatives serve as customer service, technical support and/or accounts receivable for major companies such as cellular service providers, utility companies and international travel corporations.

Junior Cory Fernandez works at Hilton Reservations Worldwide in West Tampa, accepting calls for reservations around the world at the large hotel chain.

His call center accepts only inbound calls, meaning that the representatives are not required to place any calls to customers. Any one of several 1-800 numbers directs callers to the West Tampa center, where they can book hotel rooms and receive travel itineraries.

“I’ve worked at several call centers – mainly cell phone ones – and I can say that they tend to pay really well,” he said. “The lowest rate I’ve heard anyone making is $9 per hour, most of them are making closer to $14.”

With typically good benefits packages, frequent incentives and bonuses, and a fairly good guarantee of promotion within the first six months, Fernandez said call center work has only two drawbacks.

“They’re really strict on attendance,” he said. “You have, like, four absences allowed during the entire year.”

This might account for the high amount of job turnover in most call centers. Fernandez said that in his original training class of about 30 people, only 19 were still present – a.k.a. not fired – at the end of the four-week period.

The second problem?

“None of the call centers I’ve ever worked at have been flexible enough to work around my school schedule,” said Fernandez. “When you’re one of hundreds of employees, I guess they don’t care too much about what you’re doing outside of work.”

“They do, though, usually completely pay for school – if you can find the time to go.”

Retail Madness

If any popular job carries over from high school, it’s mall jobs. While grocery stores typically see a decline in employees when they reach college-age, college students working in retail stores in big-city malls are still common.

Freshman Meredith Harris is on her second year at Burdine’s in the University Square Mall. She said she started working weekends when she was a senior in high school.

“I’m always at the mall,” she said. “I figured I might as well make back some of the money I’ve given them.”

While working in her favorite department store gives her the opportunity to, as she put it, “shop while I’m still working,” she said they’re also very willing to work around her school schedule.

Although she is still covered under her parents’ health insurance, she did say that the benefits package – in addition to her favorite, store discounts – is good. Her biggest problem is her salary.

“I’m making way less than most of my friends, even though I’ve been at my job for much longer than they’ve been at theirs,” she said. “But at least I have a lot more clothes!”

  • Contact Danielle Ritchie at