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Understanding college work-study

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Shayna Dix
March 14, 2018

This next part of your life places a lot of focus on competition. Competition for grades, competition for class placement, and the ultimate competition for jobs. To be competitive in today’s job market, you have to spend your time in college wisely. You have to work toward looking good on paper, and you have to gain the skills employers want. All the while, you have to pass your classes and make enough money to pay the bills. Oftentimes, college students find themselves looking for ways to pick up that little extra bit of cash (while also boosting their resumes) through their school’s work-study program.

What is work-study?

Work-study is a program that provides part-time employment, based on availability and financial need, to students who have filed a FAFSA. If you receive work-study, it will show up as part of your financial aid award. However, it will be up to you to find and apply for the specific job you want — preferably one that gives you work experience relevant to your major. 

How do you obtain work-study? 

In order to elicit these opportunities, you must first qualify for work-study at your college or university. You will need to exhibit financial need and answer "yes" to the question, "Would you like to be considered for work-study?" on your FAFSA. As soon as you know that you qualify for work-study, you should start applying for jobs on your campus. At UNC, this is done through Handshake, the campus job database. If you are not able to find a job by October 1, your work-study award will be canceled and offered to a student on the waitlist.

What are the perks of work-study?

Unlike a regular job, work-study employment usually has vacation time synced with the school. Employers are often happy to mold to your finals and ever-changing class schedules, and they understand that school comes first. Some work-study jobs, like library assistant jobs, even allow you time to study at work! The perks of an on-campus job, if you can snag one, are vast.

What should you consider when applying for work-study jobs? 

Although there are many perks associated with work-study, there are some potential negatives to consider. Not every on-campus office closes during breaks, but if racking up hours is your plan, know that you will probably get more time off in work-study than in most jobs. Another consideration is that you cannot work more than your work-study allocation allows. Therefore, you can only make a set maximum amount of money each semester. Bear in mind, too, that work-study does not typically continue through the summer. In looking for a work-study job, you might consider these factors and research the kinds of jobs that will give you the work experience you want, as well as the time you need to study and flexible hours.

Read more about work-study at UNC

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is a senior majoring in Elementary Education at UNC. She’s working toward her licensure to teach in a third-grade classroom. In the meantime, she is studying leadership in the President’s Leadership Program and working with the Bear Hug Club and the Ambassadors for Student Leadership Club. She’s forgotten the meaning of "free time."