Purpose ‐ The aim of this study is to investigate why students work during their degree programme, what influences their choice of employment and to examine students' perception of their ability to balance work and study. Design/methodology/approach ‐ A questionnaire was completed by 42 first- and second-year students from a single degree programme at the end of Semester 2. Findings ‐ Within this group 83 per cent of students worked at some point during term-time of their degree programme. In total 58 per cent of those students who worked did so to either cover or contribute to basic costs of living. While the majority of students felt they could balance work and study, half of all students questioned felt that working could have a negative impact on their degree classification. Research limitations/implications ‐ This is a small study, limited to students from one degree programme. This study did not focus on the positive aspects offered to students by employment. Practical implications ‐ Students can no longer be considered as full-time students, but rather as having dual roles, that of students and employees. Originality/value ‐ This study examines specifically the primary reason why students choose to, or have to, work during their university degree programme and adds to current knowledge of students' perception of the effect working has on their academic performance.