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Making Paper While Writing Papers: How Work-Study Compares With Outside Gigs

Helaina Hovitz
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The number of college students who work while attending college has stayed at a steady 78 percent for the past few decades. 

But although it’s an inescapable reality for the majority of students, they can choose to do it in one of two ways: through “real world” jobs and work-study.

Work-study or real job?

“Real-world” jobs are things like babysitting, tutoring, making rounds in the service industry, or hoping their band books a gig. Work-study programs are provided by the U.S. Federal Government and are a form of financial aid that goes toward educational expenses.

But is one necessarily a better option than the other? That depends.

Why choose work-study?

The folks at FAFSA® are the ones who determine whether you’re eligible for work-study. You get paid about once a month for the job you choose — about 20 hours a week — but how much you’re able to earn has a cap on it.

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But work-study can significantly reduce the amount you owe in student loans because you’re able to pay some of your costs sooner than later. This means you can potentially avoid, or at least reduce, escalating interest fees over decades.

Plus, they’re often provided within the college you’re attending. Keeping all of your academic pursuits and professional work in once place can help you save time and sanity. And when it comes time to take a look at your resume, some employers may find it admirable that you chose to invest even more time in the institution you spend your days learning in.

There is some flexibility here, as certain universities have agreements with off-campus organizations and companies. It’s worth looking into.

Why Choose to Go Your Own Way?

The options are endless, and so is the *potential* for earning as much money as you’d like. However, it may require a higher level of organization and much stronger discipline. You’ll need a lot of it to keep a manageable schedule, commute, leave enough time to study and get a good night’s sleep.

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Ultimately, working retail at a nearby store may not necessarily be as advantageous as working a desk job in your college’s human resources office. It comes down to whether you see yourself working in fashion or entering the world of HR upon graduating.

No matter which one you choose, you’re doing yourself a huge service by putting in the extra time to earn your way.

Studies show that students who work to pay off their educational fees and other living expenses performed better in school than those who didn’t. This is contrary to popular belief that doing both leaves little time to be very good at either. Researchers say it helps students stay focused on what’s really important.

However, it’s not always that way—some students hold down extra-tough jobs and even full-time jobs in order to avoid having to take out and pay off student loan debt altogether.

Whether you choose work-study or real job, considering to work while going to school will give you a jump start on learning real-world career skills, from writing a killer resume to networking like a pro. Just pick the one that works for you! 

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We are not affiliated with the U.S. Department of Education. Federal Student Aid (FSA), an office of the U.S. Department of Education, makes the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) form and assistance available to the public for free at