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Make the Most of a Work-Study Experience

Students who are eligible for work-study have an opportunity to gain employment experience while earning money for college. And because schedules can be organized around coursework, individuals enjoy a greater degree of flexibility than those employed in non-work-study jobs. Learn ten keys for having a pleasant and productive work-study experience.

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By Douglas Fehlen

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1. Go to the work-study job fair.

Most colleges have a work-study job fair at the beginning of each term. At this assembly you can meet employers offering work-study positions on and off campus. Thoroughly explore your options during the job fair and apply for positions you're interested in. Follow up with hiring staff to reaffirm your interest.

2. Utilize employment bulletin boards and online job banks.

Job boards are another source of information on work-study positions available at your school. In addition to having a physical bulletin board, many colleges also post jobs online. Complete a thorough search of available positions to find what work-study opportunities are available to you.

3. Work in your department of study or interest area.

Work-study can allow you to explore your academic discipline and career interests. Identify jobs that can help you build desirable skills and prepare you for future opportunities in a discipline. If you don't see positions advertised in your area, check in with a department head to see if work-study jobs are available.

4. Apply early.

No matter where you learn about work-study positions or what jobs you're interested in, an important rule of thumb is 'apply early.' The most desirable work-study positions are snapped up quickly by students. Be proactive in identifying and applying for jobs so that you don't get stuck with a job you don't like.

5. Be persistent.

If you're passed over for a job (or multiple jobs) you're excited about, don't get discouraged. Check back with a hiring manager to see if other opportunities are available. If the answer is still no, move on to other appealing options - and keep trying. Not securing a position may cause you to lose your work-study eligibility.

6. Get what you can from a job.

If you're lucky enough to get a position in a department you're interested in, do all you can to take advantage of the opportunity. Take in new information and learn specific skills. Develop connections with faculty members, identifying potential mentors. Explore department facilities and learn about special equipment.

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7. Make the most of a bad situation.

Perhaps you were not fortunate enough to get a position that interests you. Instead maybe you find yourself performing low-level administrative work in some anonymous university office. If you're stuck in a random or uninspiring job you might at least make the time productive by completing homework.

8. Be a good employee.

Especially if you're in a position that doesn't appeal to you, it can be tempting to slouch off or not take a job seriously. But don't take shortcuts. Show up on time and give a genuine effort. Losing a job can mean losing work-study eligibility. Also remember that supervisors can be good references or connections in the future.

9. Ask to stay on.

Say you are fortunate to land a position you're truly interested in and challenged by, but your work-study money is all used up. What to do? Ask an employer if you can remain working without work-study status. This may not be possible given your employment will no longer be subsidized, but it's worth a shot to ask.

10. Reapply for work-study.

If you appreciate all the benefits of work-study, make sure you don't lose it. You'll have to reapply each year by completing the FAFSA. If you have questions about this process or any other aspect of work-study, don't hesitate to contact the financial aid office on campus.

College costs are rising, and virtually everyone is feeling the pinch. Learn how financial aid offices are being affected by increasing tuition.

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