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“The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”

Whatever the merits of this Biblical message is, it is one that many have taken to heart. The general agreement on the utility of such a value and the ubiquitous acceptance thereof is reflected in the Federal Work-Study scheme that permeates financial aid programs in nearly every college and university across the United States. According to the federal government, its work-study program “provides funds for part-time employment to help needy students to finance the costs of postsecondary education” across over 3,400 postsecondary institutions.

In other words, the federal government essentially provides funds with which employers can hire and pay students, with the caveat that the hourly wages of student workers must not be lower than the federal minimum wage. The students’ earnings are then meant to be applied towards the costs of their education. In essence, work-study programs seek to provide monetary aid and work experience to struggling students in one go. If this sounds like something you’d be interested in, our staff provides an excellent breakdown of the mechanisms of the standard work-study program here.

Meanwhile, here’s a quick overview of some of the benefits and drawbacks of most work-study programs:

Pros

Work Experience

You get work experience! (Duh.) While the idea of holding a job as a college student can be seen as coming up a bit too quickly and can seem a bit offsetting to some, work-study jobs can be as pragmatic and practical as some college educations will get. Moreover, it gives you something substantial to put on your resume, which can place you well ahead of your peers. It’s true, working as a clerical aide might not seem like the most stellar jumpstart to your career, but everything you’re doing there, whether you’re organizing excel spreadsheets, manually filing documents, or even helping out at the front desk, helps. Because believe it or not, most jobs nowadays involve most people doing these exact mundane tasks most of the time.

In other words, while it might be the case that some work-study jobs tend to be a bit mundane or clerical, it is a slice of the world beyond your college education that you, along with the vast majority of your peers, would not have had otherwise.

Responsibility

This really ties in with work experience. While it’s your work-study job is a work-study job, at the end of the day, it’s still a job. It braces you for the real world. Moreover, when you get interviewed for your off-campus jobs/internships, you’ll get to brag about this. That is, you get to glow as you inform your interviewer about how you can and have worked independently and efficiently in an office environment with minimal supervision, or how your stint as a cashier at the student store made you a hardened veteran when it comes to customer service. But above all, you get to emphasize that you’re incredibly responsible, and you can point to your tenure at your work-study position to prove it. For employers, this will put you heads and shoulders above most other candidates your age.

Cons

Time

Perhaps the biggest (and most obvious) drawback with work-study jobs is the amount of time one spends on said jobs. Depending on one’s work-study award, work-study jobs can demand anywhere from 4 to 20 hours a week of work from a student. This is the equivalent of taking 1 – 2 additional classes. As such, students who undertake work-study jobs may have a difficult time taking as many classes, committing to as many student organizations, participating in as many social events, etc. as they would have been able to otherwise. Consequently, unless one’s financial circumstances demand it, it is generally not advisable to pursue work-study in one’s first year at college, as a student will most likely have his or her hands full transitioning and adjusting to college life.

Satisfaction?

What I’ve found is that the degree of satisfaction that work-study students felt about their positions tends to vary with their jobs and of course, their individual personalities. Of course, working in a research lab might be much more exciting for a STEM student than a student of comparative literature.

But at the end of the day, work-study jobs is very much like the college process, or indeed, the entirety of life itself; it is what you make of it. Attitude is key, so whereas work-study is concerned, as in anything else, if you want positive results, a positive attitude is critical.

If you’re wondering whether or not you’re going to be eligible for work study, check out Chloe Lee’s take here!



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