The Pros & Cons of Work-Study: Worth it or Not?

Written by: Kristyn Pilgrim
Updated: 3/20/20

There is a lot to consider when going into a new college semester, including whether to work or focus on your studies. Having a little extra cash to play around with or help offset the burden of student loans is hard to pass up. 

But balancing a full-time class schedule with the extra time commitments that go along with a work-study job can prove to be too much for some. If you’re wondering whether or not a work-study job may be worth it this coming semester, continue reading for some pros and cons to consider before taking the plunge.

What is Work-Study?

Federal Work-Study is more than just an on-campus job; it is a part of your school’s financial aid program and must be applied for when filling out your financial aid application.

Work-study jobs are part-time jobs that are available to both undergraduate and graduate students who have an identified financial need, as made apparent when filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Jobs available through the Federal Work-Study program typically consist of working with the public or are loosely related to a student’s course of study. Besides on-campus work-study jobs, there are often off-campus jobs available with local businesses that are subsidized by your school. 

The Benefits of Work-Study

It is essential to thoroughly think through how you could benefit from a work-study program before you apply. Some benefits to keep in mind include:

  • You may gain experience in your field. 

    Most colleges attempt to match up students with work-study jobs that line up with their chosen course of study. For example, a student enrolled in an Information Technology (IT) program may be assigned a work-study job with the college’s IT department. These assignments provide an opportunity for real-world experience in the student’s field of study.
  • Hours usually work around your class schedule.

    Since work-study is a program offered only to currently enrolled students, it is understood that some flexibility needs to be offered to prospective participants. While this isn’t always possible with every job provided through the work-study program, most will offer a degree of flexibility in hours and work around your class schedule.
  • Less competition amongst potential job candidates.

    As work-study jobs are only offered to students who qualify, the potential pool of applicants is considerably smaller than the jobs a student might apply for off-campus. Depending on the work-study position, you may even be the only student to apply.  

    On the other hand, applying for an off-campus job means competing with the general public.
  • Offsets student loan debt. 

    Having a work-study job offers you the opportunity to earn extra cash that you can put aside towards paying tuition costs. This means you may be able to take out fewer college loans and accumulate less debt in the long run.
  • Most jobs are located on campus. 

    Commuting to and from an off-campus job is often overlooked during the job search, but can become a real burden on a student who’s already juggling classwork and studying. Most work-study jobs are located directly on campus, saving students a significant amount of time over the course of a semester.

The Cons of Work-Study

The benefits of a work-study program may make it seem like a no-brainer, but there are some drawbacks. Be mindful of the following:

  • Low wages. 

    Most work-study jobs only pay minimum wage, which may not be enough to support recreational activities or educational expenses. While most jobs available to students won’t pay top-dollar, work-study jobs may ask students to handle more complicated tasks compared to other low-paying jobs.
  • Work-study hours are usually limited. 

    Work-study jobs typically have a strict maximum number of hours students may work in a week. Limited hours coupled with low wages can result in a paycheck that fails to offset the added burden work-study can bring.
  • Work-study takes time away from study.

    The limit on allotted hours can make work-study jobs seem feasible for most college students. However, work-study jobs can range anywhere from 4 to 20 hours per week, which can eat into the amount of time available for homework and study. As a result, students juggling a full-time class schedule and a work-study job may end up with little to no time for extracurricular activities or social events. 

    Because of this, experts often advise first-year students not to take on a work-study job. Once you have finished your first year, and feel comfortable with your class load, a work-study program may be more manageable.
  • There is no guarantee you will get the job you want. 

    While most work-study programs try to place students in positions that line up with their chosen course of study, you’re not guaranteed a job in that field. Job options are limited on most college campuses, so you may not end up with the job you want
  • Work-study can add additional stress. 

    Most freshman college students underestimate how stressful a full-time college class load can be. Students who are enrolled in particularly difficult or demanding majors and take on the added responsibility of a work-study job may end up overwhelmed or even burned out.

Work-study programs can help students afford tuition, books and supplies, rent, or other expenses associated with higher education. However, these programs are not always beneficial and may not provide students with enough funds to cover all costs. 

Scholarships, grants, and work-study opportunities should be the first financial aid options you consider, but if they fail to provide enough money, federal and private student loans can make up the difference.