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Is Work Study Worth It?

By Will Geiger

Will Geiger is the co-founder of Scholarships360 and has a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. He is a former Senior Assistant Director of Admissions at Kenyon College where he personally reviewed 10,000 admissions applications and essays. Will also managed the Kenyon College merit scholarship program and served on the financial aid appeals committee. He has also worked as an Associate Director of College Counseling at a high school in New Haven, Connecticut. Will earned his master’s in education from the University of Pennsylvania and received his undergraduate degree in history from Wake Forest University.

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Reviewed by Bill Jack

Bill Jack has over a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. Since 2008, he has worked at Colby College, Wesleyan University, University of Maine at Farmington, and Bates College.

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Updated: June 22nd, 2022
Is Work Study Worth It?

When you complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), one of the questions you’ll come across is: “Are you interested in being consider for work-study?” Students can respond to “Are you interested in being considered for work-study” with “yes”, “no”, or “unsure.” We always recommend that students answer “yes” to this question so that they can be considered for federal work study. There is no obligation to take part in work study, but it gives students the option to participate.

If you have completed the FAFSA and see work study as a part of your financial aid award letter, you will need to decide if work study is worth it for you. Let’s get into all that work study entails and help you decide whether it is a good choice for you.

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We’re here to help you run through the benefits of work study, as well as other factors that you should be considering when making this decision.

Benefits of work study

The idea of work study is simple: students can find a job (usually on campus) and get paid money to use towards their education. These part-time jobs will pay at least minimum wage, and along with scholarships, grants, and student loans, can help pay for your tuition, room, board, and other expenses.

If you are on the fence about federal work-study, there are numerous benefits to consider. These benefits include the following:

Money to pay for college

The primary reason that most students consider work study is to pay for school or other expenses. While work study may only pay for a smaller portion of your educational expenses, it is still a useful way to earn some additional money and minimize the amount of student loans that you need to take out.

The other big benefit of work study is that your work study earnings will not count against you when you apply for financial aid (as you will apply for financial aid through the FAFSA each year). Other jobs will count as earned income, while work study wages will be exempt.

Work experience

Work experience is another huge benefit of work study. Whether you are doing data entry in the library (like I did in college), working retail in the school store, or office work in an academic department, you will be gaining some work experience to include on your resume.

Some students may be able to develop other skills and secure work study positions as a tutor, research assistant, or social media producer. These more skilled work study positions can be a real advantage when you seek jobs and internships down the line.

Learn more: Everything you need to know about work study

Work/school balance

One of the great things about many work study jobs is that you can do them on campus. This means that they are easy to access and won’t require a complicated commute to your job.

The other benefit of having an on campus job is that your boss will likely be more flexible if you need additional time to study for exams, attend a club meeting, or other obligations. This is not always going to be the case with other jobs, but is a nice perk of work study.

Also see: How to make money in college

How much money are you making from work study?

One of the biggest considerations you need to make when assessing whether to take work study is how much money you are going to make from it.

Generally, students will be paid close to minimum wage (which is $7.25 nationally unless your state minimum wage is higher). At 5-10 hours per week, this is likely going to be useful to use as spending money, but is unlikely to make a huge dent in your tuition bill.

This isn’t a reason not to secure a work study job, but know that realistically it will not be a way to single handedly fund your education.

Do you have the time for a work study job?

One of the biggest reasons students should not do a work study is if it will negatively impact their studies or academic achievement. Remember, you are probably spending tens of thousands of dollars per year to attend college (and potentially taking student loans that will need to be repaid). This means that your academic success should be your number one priority.

If your grades are sinking or you are seriously struggling, we would recommend that you reconsider your work study job. If necessary, talk to your academic advisor about this to get their thoughts.

Work study vs. part-time jobs

Work study is not the only way that students can work to pay for college. Just like anyone else, students are free to apply for part-time jobs to help fund their education. We’ll break down the pros and cons of a part-time job versus a work study job:

Part-time job benefits

  • Flexibility: Students can apply for any jobs that they want including remote jobs and off-campus jobs
  • Pay: These jobs may offer higher pay, especially for students with more specialized skills (sales, programming, marketing, etc.). Work study jobs will also have an earnings cap, which will not exist for other part-time jobs.
  • Exit options: Work study jobs exist to support students, so they are unlikely to lead to a full time job or internship opportunity.

Part-time job downsides

  • Negative impact on financial aid: Unlike work study earnings that are used on approved educational expenses (such as tuition, room, and board), any earnings from a part-time job can impact your need-based financial aid.
  • Lack of balance: Work study jobs are designed for students, which means that your boss will be accommodating with academic obligations. This may not be the case with a part-time job with an outside company or organization.

Also see: How to find online jobs for college students

So, are work study jobs worth it?

Our verdict is yes, work study jobs are totally worth it. We think that they offer a great blend of financial upside, opportunities for experience, and great work/school balance.

The only situations where work study jobs may not be worth it are if you plan on supporting your education through a job or if you are unable to balance a job with your academic demands.

Also see: Making the most out of college: Tips from the S360 team

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