Work-Study vs. Part-Time Jobs: Weighing the Pros and Cons

Consider your college schedule and budget before you decide to work part-time or use work study.

The days of paying for your whole tuition with a college job may be over, but working is still a common way to offset many of the costs of education. Students have two options when finding a college job: they can find a job by themselves or find a work-study position.

The actual work you perform in a work-study or part-time job may be identical, but how you get paid, where your job is, and how many hours you can work all depend on what type of job you get.


Work-study is actually a form of financial aid that a student can receive through the college financial aid office. If you have outstanding financial obligation after applying grants or scholarships you may have received, you may be offered work-study in place of larger loans.

Work-study jobs are easier to find than normal ones because the college has many jobs available on campus. It also works with local businesses to subsidize jobs for college students. Employers are more likely to accept college students on work-study because the college will pay a portion of the wages.

It’s important to note that there is a limit to how much work-study you can do because it is a part of your financial aid. Limits vary. At the University of Iowa, the most you can earn from work-study is $3,500. At UC Berkeley, the maximum is $4,000.

Work-Study Pros and Cons

PRO: It’s easier to find a work-study job.
PRO: You take it in place of higher loans. That means less accruing interest.
PRO: On-campus jobs mean you don’t need to worry about owning a car, spending an hour on the bus or travel expenses.

CON: Jobs are typically minimum wage or only slightly higher.
CON: You must be offered work-study by the school to get a position.
CON: Maximum awards for incoming freshmen are typically lower because schools want you to focus on academics and not employment.

Part-Time Job

By contrast, a part-time job is outside the college. Your school does not help you find part-time work and offers no incentives for employers to hire you. You have to secure your part time job the same way you would find any job: on your own.

Since you got the job on your own, the college cannot place any restrictions on how much you earn. You are free to work as many hours as you want, and earn as much as you can. Keep in mind that employers who hire college students still probably don’t pay that well, but there are plenty of jobs for college students above minimum wage.

Part-Time Pros and Cons

PRO: There are no limits on how much you can earn.
PRO: You get more real world experience in job hunting, interviewing and writing attractive resumes and cover letters.
PRO: There’s more variety in the type of job you can choose. Most work-study is simply tutoring or working in campus stores.

CON: Most on-campus jobs are work-study, so you’ll have to find some way to get to your part-time job.
CON: Money you earn at a part time job may affect your financial aid eligibility more than money earned with work-study.
CON: Your employer may expect you to work more, pick up extra shifts, or cut into your study time, while work-study employers and on-campus jobs know that school is your priority.

Quick Tips

  • If you are not offered work-study but feel you need it, you may petition your college’s financial aid office.
  • In addition to limits on how much you can earn, work-study also typically has a cap on number of hours you can work per week.
  • If you are offered work-study but you find a better job by yourself, you do not have to accept the work-study position.
  • Make sure that you speak with your financial aid office about how your earnings in both work-study or part time jobs may affect your financial aid and taxes next year.

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