By Alyssa Keil, CashCourse intern
I knew I would have to work a part-time job throughout college in order to help cover my educational costs, so when I was awarded a work-study grant as a part of my first-year financial aid package, I was happy to have the opportunity to work on campus.
I had a lot of questions about the work-study program, however, so I called the financial aid office at my university to get more information. I learned that a work-study job is just like any other job, except that there is a set amount of money granted for a student to earn over the course of the school year. Other than that, as a work-study student you apply for positions, interview, and receive a paycheck—just like with any non-work-study job.
I learned that once you are hired, you work with your supervisor to determine a pay rate and work schedule to ensure that you work the appropriate number of hours to enable you to work for the entire year and earn your full work-study grant. I also learned that there are positions available in almost every department on campus, making it easy to find something that fits with your interests.
I started applying for jobs in early July and interviewed with several different departments around campus. My priorities when searching for a job were to find a position in an office where I could learn job skills and a great deal of useful information, and have a supervisor who understood the fact that I was, first and foremost, a full-time student.
Ultimately, I decided to accept a position as a customer service assistant at my school’s office of financial aid because I knew very little about financial aid and it was something that would directly impact me for the next four years and beyond. Also, the person I reported to had supervised many work-study students already, meaning she knew the types of academic commitments that I would have. During my time in this position, I had three different supervisors, and all were very accommodating if I needed to take time off for school-related things like extra study time during finals.
Because I lived relatively close to the university I would be attending, I decided to start working before school began. Looking back, I realize that starting during the summer before my first year was one of the best decisions I made. It not only allowed me to start earning money earlier, it also helped me become acclimated to the campus. As a result, I had an easier transition into college because I was not starting classes and a new job at the same time; I had already been working for more than a month when classes began.
These advantages, plus the fact that I had worked part time all through high school, are the biggest reasons I never found it difficult to balance work with school. If you’re not able to begin working before the start of school, or if you have trouble acclimating to working while in school, you should talk to your supervisor to see if you can start working only a few hours a week and then gradually increase the number as you feel ready.
In addition to teaching me to be conscious of my financial aid and spending habits, my work-study job also helped me learn important lessons that I know will serve me well, long into the future. The first of these is the importance of seeking out new responsibilities at work. I put a great deal of time and effort into learning all about financial aid and becoming the best customer service assistant I could be. Once I felt comfortable with a task, I would ask my supervisor for a new project to work on. Taking initiative like this really paid off, because it led to having staff members ask me to help them with more-advanced jobs. I stayed at the financial aid office throughout my entire time in college. Each year my responsibility in the office increased, and by my senior year I was processing loan applications and actually advising students.
An important skill I developed while working at the financial aid office was the ability to work with a wide range of people. When you go to college, you will, without a doubt, encounter people with very different backgrounds from your own. Still, those encounters are often with people you have some things in common with, such as the same major or same year in school. Working in an office that served the entire campus, I was able to work with traditional and nontraditional, domestic and international, graduate and undergraduate students, as well as with parents, faculty, and other community members. Just as with taking initiative, I learned that possessing the ability to work with people from all walks of life and in a variety of situations is key to being successful at any job.
I found participating in the work-study program to be extremely beneficial during my four years as an undergrad, and I would recommend looking into the program if you are planning on working while in school. Policies and procedures can vary from institution to institution, so if you are interested in work-study, here are some questions you may want to ask your university’s financial aid office during your application process:
Is there a priority deadline for submitting my financial aid documents that must be met in order to be considered for work-study?
If awarded a work-study grant, do I need to accept it by a certain date and/or secure a job by a certain date?
Is there an award increase process if I earn my entire original grant before the school year is over? (When interviewing for positions, you can ask the supervisor if his or her department has funding available to continue to pay students who have earned their entire work award.)
If I decline the award one year, can I be awarded it again in subsequent years?
By looking into the program early and getting answers to any questions you may have, you’ll be better prepared to make the most of your work-study position. Having a job through the program will help you earn some extra cash while you’re getting more involved at your new university and learning valuable skills. To reap the most benefits from participating in work-study, seek out jobs that you will enjoy and that will motivate you to work diligently!