Federal work-study…what? For those of you wondering, this is one piece of the financial aid puzzle. Basically, it’s exactly what it sounds like. You study while you work. These jobs are usually on-campus, they’re part time, and your hours are built around your class schedule each semester. When I was in college, I had three work-study jobs; one at the circulation desk of the library, one at the café in the library, and one in the college Writing Center. I enjoyed all of them, but more than that, I learned some unexpected lessons from them.
- You can’t bluff your way through life. During my first few weeks as a writing consultant in the Writing Center, I was helping a student revise a five-page English assignment. This student had been told by his teacher to pay particular attention to comma splices. I didn’t want to admit that I couldn’t recall the definition of a comma splice off the top of my head, so we ended up putting in an extra one instead of taking them out. (In case you’re wondering, a comma splice is a bit like a run-on sentence. It’s a comma used to incorrectly join two independent clauses.) It was called to my attention by one of my colleagues, a student in several of my classes whom I admired a great deal. It was an embarrassing mistake for me, but after that day if I wasn’t sure about something, I used our reference library to look it up rather than guessing.
- Timeliness is crucial. One of my fellow work-study students and I were on the bottom level of the library, re-shelving books from the circulation desk. It was early in the morning and the library was relatively empty, so we were talking between the aisles. Suddenly, she stopped answering me. I walked around to see if she was still there, and she was on the floor having a seizure. I was able to notify help and clear the area around her while I supported her head. It was the first time I had ever seen someone having a seizure, and it freaked me out pretty badly. But because I acted immediately to get help instead of freezing or panicking, I was much better able to help her.
- No matter how seemingly insignificant the job, do it well. One summer, I was given the unfortunate task of cataloguing what seemed like a hundred boxes of recipes clipped from newspapers and magazines in the 1930’s through the 1970’s. I wasn’t thrilled by the prospect of reading through instructions on things like “Beef Tongue Aspic” and at first I approached the project with all the disdain my 19-year-old self could muster. But after a few boxes, I stumbled upon some recipes with beautiful, spidery cursive notes in the margins. Most of them were just things like ‘1 tsp oregano’ and ‘margarine instead of butter,’ but seeing that writing on those clippings was like a fastball to the head. In the 1940’s, someone sat in a kitchen and clipped the Beef Tongue Aspic out of a magazine, thought it worth saving to share with family and friends. Who was I to judge this person’s donation, her collection? Perhaps she had given up these piles of recipes tearfully, reluctant but resigned to giving up generations of kitchen memories. What I thought was an insignificant job turned out to be an unusual insight into the home lives of one of the college’s most generous donors.
- Always take advantage of leftovers from important meetings! As a college student, I was basically flat broke all the time. Whenever there were important meetings in the boardroom on the top floor, the catering department would go all-out for the occasion. And after everyone in the meeting retreated back to their business, the library staff would let the work-study students know about it so we could go get free lunches (or breakfast, or dinner, or whatever it happened to be). Free leftovers from meetings probably saved me at least $250 each semester!
For many, many students every year, work-study is a chance to get a decent job, earn some extra money to help with college expenses, and gain extra practical work experience to post on a résumé. But if you are eligible to participate in work-study as part of your financial aid package, you may find yourself getting more than you bargained for –in a good way! If you are interested in being considered for work-study, make sure you selected “Yes” to that question on the FAFSA. You can log back into your account at www.fafsa.gov and double check if you aren’t sure, and submit a correction if necessary.