Work Study Jobs vs Part-Time Jobs

The difference between work-study and part-time jobs is that work-study is provided via the FAFSA® by your chosen school. A work-study position is need-based, while a part-time job is a typical job outside of school. 

Students use both to help fund their educations and to have extra money while going to college through work instead of potentially taking out more student loans.

Why Have a Job During College?

Paying for college isn’t easy; your financial aid only covers some of the costs. Whether you want to cover more tuition, or you’d like to have some pocket money for fun each week, a job will afford you that financial leeway.

That’s where work-study jobs come in. Lots of students find it possible to fit a job into a full class schedule, and making money while you’re in school to keep yourself from as much debt later is a smart move.

What Should I Know About Work-Study?

Work-study is a type of financial aid you qualify for via your federal aid application and is contingent on your school’s availability. 

When you fill out the FAFSA®, you’ll receive information about whether you’re eligible for a work-study position. If you are eligible, you’ll need to contact your school’s financial aid office to see what work-study job opportunities they have open.

If you’re a student considering work-study, keep a few things in mind:

  • You can only work a certain number of hours a week. For students, the limit is no more than 20 but often closer to 10. Colleges don’t want work-study getting in the way of your academic performance.
  • You can only earn a certain amount of money a semester with your work-study position. If your FAFSA® says $2,000 for example, that’s how much you’ll make. It’s a good idea to find a work-study position with pay and hours that allow you to reach that maximum goal.
  • Your work-study doesn’t go toward your tuition automatically. You receive a check, just like you would with a part-time job. You can ask the financial aid office to apply your work-study earnings toward your tuition; otherwise, you get to decide how you spend that money.
  • You still need to apply and interview for work-study jobs. Being eligible for work-study doesn’t guarantee you a position.
  • During midterms and finals, a work-study position is more likely to allow a student to have flexible hours for studying time.

How Do I Get Work-Study?

Your school’s financial aid office will either have a posting of the available work-study jobs or will be able to tell you where to go to find that information. From there, follow the instructions to apply for the work-study positions. Some of them may be with local businesses, which can help you get job experience for your major.

Work-study positions are relatively easy to find because the university expects that lots of students will need these jobs. Just make sure to apply early, so you have a bigger selection of positions. If you wait, you probably won’t get your first pick of work-study jobs.

Should I Get a Part-Time Job Instead?

Many students, especially juniors and seniors, elect to get part-time jobs to help pay for college. Unlike with work-study positions, you’ll be competing with your city’s entire job market for part-time jobs. 

A part-time job may pay a better hourly rate than a work-study position, which is a big advantage. But you may find scheduling your part-time job around your classes to be difficult. You’ll probably work closer to 20 hours a week than 10, as well, so keep an eye on your academics.

You are able to make more money with a part-time job than you are in a work-study position. Remember, though, that if you make too much, you’ll impact how much financial aid you can earn via FAFSA® the following year. 

Earning more than $6,420 in the 2017 to 2018 academic year will increase your expected family contribution. Pay attention to your wages on a part-time job. You want to supplement your funds, not decrease your financial aid.

Maybe I Just Shouldn’t Have a Job

If you’re thinking of nixing the job idea altogether because of how it impacts EFC, don’t think that way. Many colleges are unable to fully meet a student’s financial need, which means the EFC is just the starting point for how much you’ll be expected to pay out-of-pocket. Not all colleges use EFC as a way to calculate the awarded financial aid, so it’s always good to have additional funds.

College isn’t cheap, and many students use FAFSA®-based work-study jobs as a way to lower the cost both during and after college. If you qualify for a work-study position, it’s a good idea to take advantage of that, as it’s part of your financial aid package. You can always get a part-time job at a later time.