Work-Study vs. Part-Time Jobs: Which is Right for You?

As a college student, you may be considering various options to help cover the costs of your education. Two popular choices are work-study and part-time jobs. While both can provide financial freedom and valuable work experience, it’s important to understand the differences between the two.

In this article, we’ll explore work-study and part-time jobs, their benefits, and how to make the most of these opportunities.

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 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?

While work-study can be an excellent option for many students, part-time jobs also have their advantages. Here’s what you should consider when deciding between work-study and a part-time job:

1. Availability and Competition

Unlike work-study positions, part-time jobs are not limited to the campus or your school’s available positions. With a part-time job, you’ll be competing with the entire job market in your city. This may provide a broader range of opportunities, but it also means there may be more competition for these positions.

2. Hourly Pay and Scheduling

Part-time jobs often offer a better hourly rate compared to work-study positions. However, scheduling your work hours around your classes can be more challenging since employers may have less flexibility in accommodating your academic commitments.

Additionally, part-time jobs typically require a higher time commitment, often closer to 20 hours per week, which may impact your academic performance.

3. Financial Aid Considerations

It’s essential to keep in mind the impact that your earnings may have on your financial aid eligibility. If you earn too much from a part-time job, it could affect your financial aid package the following year.

Make sure to be mindful of this and consider whether the higher income from a part-time job is worth potentially reducing your financial aid.

Make the Most of Your College Experience

If you’re concerned about the impact of work-study or a part-time job on your expected family contribution (EFC), remember that many colleges cannot fully meet students’ financial needs. The EFC is just a starting point for calculating how much you’ll be expected to pay out-of-pocket. Even if you qualify for work-study, it may still be advantageous to have additional funds available.


In conclusion, college expenses can add up quickly, and work-study and part-time jobs are excellent ways to offset these costs. Work-study positions offer financial aid and flexibility while allowing you to gain valuable work experience. On the other hand, part-time jobs provide the opportunity for higher earnings but may require more time commitment and careful consideration of the impact on financial aid eligibility.

By understanding the differences between work-study and part-time jobs, you can make an informed decision that aligns with your financial goals and academic needs. Remember, work-study is a part of your financial aid package, and part-time jobs can always be pursued later on. So, make the most of your college experience by choosing a path that suits you best.

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