applying for college

Why a Work-Study Program is Worth It

This is the fourth in a series of posts that college finance expert, Laurie Peltier, is writing about her own experience going through the college application and enrollment processes with her kids. Her previous posts focused on how to stay organized during the college search and final decision-making processes, and getting to know your school. Here, she discusses the benefits of the Federal Work Study program.

To say I am a fan of work-study is an understatement. My work-study job in college helped me stay afloat financially and introduced me to the inner workings of the college.  As a financial aid professional, the work-study students did the work that the rest of us didn’t have time to – stuffing envelopes, filing, answering phones, refilling the coffee.  One of my work-study students went on to become a financial aid professional herself!  Now that my children are in college I think I love it even more, because now I don’t have to send them spending money!

The Process

Federal Work Study funds are applied for by completing the FAFSA form.  The student should answer YES to the question “are you interested in work study?” if he or she would like to be considered.  Each college is allotted so much per year from the federal government and the college matches that amount.  The college awards work study to students who have demonstrated financial need, although funds are limited, so at some colleges not all needy students will receive work-study.  The amount of the offer represents the most that a student can earn during the school year. It is not the amount deducted from the tuition bill. Students must work the hours to get paid.  At some colleges if you are offered work-study as a first-year and don’t accept it or use it, you may not be offered the same opportunity in later years.

If you don’t qualify for need-based work-study, check out the college’s list of on campus jobs – some are non-need-based (sometimes called campus work) and available to all students.

Work-study jobs are varied – and can be competitive.  The better jobs (based on hours or duties) go fast.  The process of being selected for a job can begin in the summer, as soon as available jobs are posted online on the college’s website.  Beat the rush and check the website as early as July, and if your college has a summer orientation, ask then if you can complete the required paperwork.  Sometimes there is an application process, which includes providing a resume and scheduling an interview… Other times colleges may have a less formal process where you stop by the work site and apply for the job in person.

Time Commitment

A lot of parents I speak to advise their child not to work while in college, fearing that s/he will not have enough time and their grades will suffer.  I don’t believe this to be the case.  A work-study job can be scheduled during the weekday in between classes, in the evenings, or on the weekends.  I don’t know many students who only go to class and study and never have any down time.  Too much free time can make a student less productive.

My kids both worked for the athletic department in their first year at college.  Each month they were emailed a list of the upcoming available hours.  They could schedule their work hours around their trips home, their exams and papers, and their free time.  Some weeks they worked four hours, other weeks they worked as many as twelve hours. If they needed to adjust their schedule they learned how to swap with co-workers.  They earned minimum wage and had their pay direct deposited into their bank accounts.  A bonus for them – working in the athletic department meant they received free t-shirts and were able to enjoy many of the sporting events while working.   Library jobs are also coveted because most college libraries are open long hours, which makes scheduling hours easy, and you might be able to do your homework while you are working.  Getting paid to study – what a deal!

The Benefit

The funds you earn from your work-study job can be used as you wish to replenish summer savings and for expenses like laundry, entertainment, dining off campus, transportation, books, personal supplies. Depending on your expenses it can also be saved up to pay for the next semester’s tuition bill.  Having this monthly influx of cash will keep you in the black financially throughout the year so parents won’t get that dreaded phone call: “I’m out of money!”

Added benefits to work-study are that you will be building your resume and learning to work with different people on campus. Your supervisor will be a resource for you if you if you need help navigating the college system and can also be a reference for you – when you apply for a summer job, or your first job out of college!



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Written by Laurie Peltier
Laurie Peltier is a college finance expert at College Coach. Before joining College Coach, she was a Senior Financial Aid Officer at Becker College and Anna Maria College.