Student Employment: Financial Aid's Unsung Hero

As a College Coach Finance Educator, I often speak with anxious working parents willing to explore any means possible to pay for their child's college education. How many more work hours am I going to lose, aimlessly searching for scholarships online? Should I look into refinancing our house? Perhaps sell a vital organ? It surprises me, however, that many parents are initially resistant to one financing option:  student employment. Their concerns are legitimate working students may have added stress and less time to study but there are a myriad of benefits, financial and otherwise, that should be considered.

Earn Money

Though skyrocketing tuition inflation has made it nearly impossible for a full-time student to truly work his way through school, students can still contribute to their education. That campus job can pay for a semester's worth of books.  Or that part-time job can earn enough spending money to finance the occasional pizza, laundry, and cell phone bill (I guarantee your employees want their kids to call home!). With most parents' budgets stretched to the limit - and financial stress effecting both employees and their employers - a couple thousand dollars a year from student employment can make a real difference. And, at most colleges, students can earn up to $6,000 annually without any negative effect on their financial aid.

Organize Time ... and Learn to Juggle

Parents worry that a job will detract from their child's studies, but multiple studies have shown that students who work up to 15 hours per week have slightly higher GPAs than their non-working classmates. These working students, by necessity, must organize their time.  Carefully scheduling study-time between classes and work leaves little opportunity for procrastination. Lucky students can even study on-the-job. Between customers at that library circulation desk, for example, there's nothing to do BUT read!

Gain Experience 

Though I've met countless financial aid officers who started their careers as work-study students in their college's aid office, even if a campus job isn't going to lead directly into a career, it can help a student figure out what she does and doesn't want in a future profession (i.e. I like working with people, I hate working with numbers). And though career-related work is ideal (tutoring for future teachers, lab work for future scientists), any job can help build a student's resume, demonstrating responsibility, teamwork, and other transferable job skills to future employers like you!

Be Supervised  

College staff that hire students enjoy working with them and may get to know students better than professors do. They are therefore more likely than others on campus to notice if a student is struggling. If a parent is concerned that their child will have a tough adjustment to college, a campus job may put them in contact with an adult that can keep an eye on them, and get them help if needed.

Make Friends 

Finally, an on-campus job can help a student develop a sense of community at college, providing an avenue to make friends far from home (responsible, hard-working friends, no less!). The feeling of belonging engendered by an on-campus job is thought to be one reason that part-time student workers are less likely to drop out of school than non-workers.

Though not every student should work at college parents should evaluate their child's academic needs, stress level, and extracurricular commitments every family should at least consider the option.

Employment has benefits, both tangible and intangible, that can help a student through college and beyond. What value have you seen carry over from student employment to your workforce?

Written by: Shannon Vasconcelos

About the Author

Shannon works with Bright Horizons Education & College Advising corporate clients to deliver college financing workshops and provide personalized counseling to employees. She has over 10 years of experience in student financial assistance, at Boston University and Tufts University, and has also served as an active member of MASFAA’s Early Awareness and Outreach Committee, as a trainer for DOE’s National Training for Counselors and Mentors, and as a volunteer for FAFSA Day Massachusetts.