For most students, paid work is a necessary part of the college experience. Our federal government acknowledges this reality through its work-study program, which subsidizes the wages of qualifying students who work in specially-designated jobs. These jobs provide a way for students to earn much-needed money for school while helping their communities, learning about careers, and maintaining time to study. Despite its benefits, however, work-study doesn’t have a monopoly on college employment.
Reasons for Working without Work-Study
- Your college doesn’t offer the program.
- You’re not eligible for United States federal financial aid. This applies to most international students.
- You don’t have financial need.
- Your work-study award was replaced with money earned through outside grants and scholarships.
- Your college didn’t have enough funds to offer you a place.
- You couldn’t find a work-study job.
- You want to earn more than your work-study award allows.
- You attend a work college.
- You want a specific job that isn’t available through work-study.
- You want to participate in a co-op, internship, or REU.
- You want to start a business.
- You want to work during a study-abroad trip.
You’ll have more flexibility.
Federal work-study comes with many restrictions. “If you work on campus, you’ll usually work for your school,” reads the United States government’s Federal Student Aid website. “If you work off campus, your employer will usually be a private nonprofit organization or a public agency, and the work performed must be in the public interest…Some schools might have agreements with private for-profit employers for work-study jobs. These jobs must be relevant to your course of study (to the maximum extent possible). If you attend a proprietary school (i.e., a for-profit institution), there may be further restrictions on the types of jobs you can be assigned.”
You can earn more money.
Some colleges have provisions for increasing your work-study award, but there are always hard limits in the end. “Students’ total yearly earnings must not exceed the total work award,” Wheaton College indicates. “Students are not eligible to work on campus once they have earned their full work allotments.”
It’s harder to find jobs.
“At my university, it seems like there are more work study jobs,” says college writer Paige Sheffield. “I don’t know for sure if this is actually true, but using the online job search, most of the jobs listed are work study only. Many of these jobs are the office jobs (the jobs I would actually want).”
It’s harder to find jobs related to your major.
“Without work study,” says Paige, “it’s difficult to find jobs related to your career or interest in my experience.”
Your employer might not accommodate your schedule.
According to Western Illinois University, the federal work-study program “was designed…to support the educational program and individual student goals.” Unfortunately, most jobs—especially off-campus jobs—are not. You may find yourself competing with non-student workers who don’t have to fit their jobs around their classes.
Your earnings will affect your financial aid.
Work-study income is taxable just like other forms of income, but it will not increase your expected family contribution (EFC) when your school is determining how much financial need you have. When it comes to non-work-study jobs, however, FinAid reports that “student income and assets can add significantly to the EFC figure.”
“Colleges often have listservs that send out information about job openings on campus,” says college writer Christine Fulgham. Similarly, Paige suggests that you “check job postings regularly.”
Ask around at local businesses.
“I haven’t had any trouble finding work,” says Christine. “I found little hole-in-the-wall jobs I was interested in, like working in the costume shop, and showed interest. I expressly stated that I could use the money and I was willing to work hard for it.”
Talk to professors.
Christine says, “Professors often get grant money that they can use to hire student employees. My advice is to express your interest in things to professors because you never know when they, or someone they know, will need help. You want to make sure you are one of the first names to pop into their heads to recommend.”
Figure out your academic interests.
It’s easier to look for jobs if you have a specific field in mind, even if you end up branching out to other areas. In particular, you might benefit from declaring your major in your first year. Paige says, “My department sends out emails about job opportunities to people who have declared majors in the department. In addition, my department has social media accounts where they share opportunities.”
Choose your classes strategically.
Most jobs require you to make yourself available for a few hours at a time, several days a week. If you have classes all day long every day, you’ll have a harder time finding jobs that suit your schedule.
Above all, be proactive!
“Connections are everything in the job hunt,” says Christine. “Always have a resume that you can send to someone. If you say you’re going to email them right away, then do it! Do not wait, because you may forget or they may assume you weren’t that interested.” Paige adds, “On my university’s job page, it says that many jobs are not posted and contacting departments directly can sometimes be more effective.”