"Is Work Study Good or Bad?"

Is work-study good or bad?

I get this question all the time.  Let’s take a look.

First, a definition, since work-study is a little different than it was when we (parents) went to college.

Work-study is a part of a financial aid award that may be given by the financial aid office.  (Financial aid packages consist of grants, scholarships, loans and work-study.)

When I had jobs in college like “Weight Room Supervisor” (watching students place pins in and out of the old Universal Machine – remember those?), or working in the Ice Cream Shoppe (the extra “pe” in “Shoppe” lent class to our establishment), I was paid a whopping $4 and something per hour.

Now, kids usually do not get a pay check, rather their “wages” are deducted from the total bill sent by the Bursar’s office.

The good news is that the earnings are generally not taxable…the bad news is that work-study kids may feel like indentured slaves!

Some parents are worried about whether their kids should have a job when they go to college.  They say things like, “Going to school IS your job.”

Of course, not all kids are the same (although they’re more similar than you may realize).  Neither are parents, for that matter.

But I feel that, barring unusual circumstances, working is a great thing to do in college.

First, there’s the money. Duh.  Whether your work is part of an official work-study program of off-campus, it’s nice to have extra money for incidentals (a code word for “beer”).

Second, it’s meaningful for a college kid to have earned a few bucks on his or her own instead of having to hit up Mommy or Daddy for cash.  Part of growing up and becoming independent.

Third, it helps a student budget time.  College kids experience more free, unstructured time than any other period in their young, over-scheduled lives.  Working a few shifts in the library each week provides structure.

Fourth, working is a great way to meet people, not only other students, but also the permanent staff at the college, many of whom have been employed at the college for years.

In other words, they’ve seen students come, and students go. They’ve picked up “insider” information about the college that new students will never stumble across.  I learned about all sorts of cool hangouts, scuttlebutt on professors and other things not fit for print from my supervisor in the Grille, another campus dining facility.

Fifth, if you turn down work study, but you re-apply for financial aid the next year, how credible will your argument that you need assistance be?

Yes, you are still likely to get a comparable award in your student’s sophomore year from most colleges. But, bear in mind that most of the financial aid staff, including the Dean, is likely to have come from a middle class upbringing, and may have worked his or her way all through college.

Their attitude might be, “I worked when I went to school.  How badly can you need our resources if you’re not willing to put in 12 hours a week?”

For this reason, and when you consider that the amount of time that college kids spend studying is documented to be less than 25 years ago, turning down work-study may send the wrong message to the financial aid office.

I hope you consider these factors when deciding whether to accept an offer of work-study.

Your Correspondent,

– Andy Lockwood

P.S.  I’m about to shut down my discounted Appeals Class training for parents who would like to improve/negotiate/appeal for more financial aid, after it’s been awarded.  Most schools want deposits before May 1, so the clock is ticking!


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