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By Ethan Wolff-Mann
July 25, 2016
Paper Boat Creative—Getty Images

Summer jobs in strawberry fields, mail rooms, ice cream stands, and landscaping didn’t used to be just about learning the value of money, developing a work ethic, and making extra cash—they were viable ways of getting money for college. Not so anymore. Today, the number of work hours it takes to pay for college has more than doubled, according to NPR‘s Anya Kamentz.

Back in the early ’80s, the average full cost of a year of public college was $2,870, the maximum Pell grant was $1,800, and the minimum wage was $3.35. With only $1,070 to pay, a summer job would only need to be 26 hours a week for three months.

Best college education image

If a kid wanted $35 per week of spending money, Kamentz calculates that you could pay for this with 842 hours—which you could easily work in a solid summer of full-time work and occasional school-year shifts.

Today, however, the idea of paying for college with your average summer job is nothing more than nostalgia. The total cost of a year of college today averages $19,548, the Pell grant is only $5,775, and the federal minimum wage $7.25. Paying for college in a summer would mean working for over 21 hours a day. Paying it over the entire year would mean 37-hour weeks, every week. While this may be possible, Kamentz notes that research shows that grades suffer when students work over 20 hours per week.

Advertiser Disclosure

The purpose of this disclosure is to explain how we make money without charging you for our content.

Our mission is to help people at any stage of life make smart financial decisions through research, reporting, reviews, recommendations, and tools.

Earning your trust is essential to our success, and we believe transparency is critical to creating that trust. To that end, you should know that many or all of the companies featured here are partners who advertise with us.

Our content is free because our partners pay us a referral fee if you click on links or call any of the phone numbers on our site. If you choose to interact with the content on our site, we will likely receive compensation. If you don't, we will not be compensated. Ultimately the choice is yours.

Opinions are our own and our editors and staff writers are instructed to maintain editorial integrity, but compensation along with in-depth research will determine where, how, and in what order they appear on the page.

To find out more about our editorial process and how we make money, click here.

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