Work-Study vs. Internship vs. Part-Time Job: Which is Best for You?

 July 31, 2020
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Working students should pick a job as carefully as choosing a major.

You don’t want to sell yourself short by taking just any gig with a paycheck, especially if it won’t offer valuable experience. You’ll also want an employment opportunity that works with your schedule and won’t affect your studies.

Whether you’re considering work-study vs. internships or part-time jobs, here’s how to make your best choice possible.

Review the pros and cons of:

Plus: How to aim for a mixture of experiences

Work-study pros and cons

Let’s start the work-study vs. internship debate with federal and school-sourced work-study programs. They’re a win-win: Students gain part-time work experience that helps to pay for school, and employers receive low-cost help in the workplace.

To qualify for the federal work-study program, you must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Your level of financial aid dictates whether you’ll be awarded a work-study spot (as well as other forms of financial aid, such as grants and student loans).

Pros Cons
Positions are usually on-campus
Tuition assistance (and sometimes pay)
Career experience
Positions may be competitive or scarce
Compensation may be low

Pro: Positions are usually on-campus

Even if your financial aid award letter doesn’t include a federal work-study grant, less formal work-study positions can be found right on campus through your school’s career services center. Some may be based off-campus as well.

Here’s an important factor to consider when weighing work-study vs. an internship: A work-study job can save you money on gas, travel expenses or commute time, since you’ll likely be on-campus or nearby, whereas an internship could require a car.

With work-study, you can save time and use it wisely by attending class, earning academic credits and otherwise focusing on your studies.

Pro: Tuition assistance (and sometimes pay)

Unlike an outside part-time job, a work-study position is a school-sponsored position. It’s a form of financial aid that doesn’t need to be repaid and may even reimburse some of your tuition costs.

Work-study positions may also offer a small hourly rate you can earn. As an example, during my time as an undergrad journalism major, the work-study position I held was writing and editing for a local arts newsletter. The position provided tuition assistance and part-time pay at the same time.

Pro: They provide some career experience

You don’t necessarily have to choose between work-study vs. internship — some positions fall into both categories at once, and can lead to valuable experience. I was lucky to find one that dovetailed with my major, gave me relevant experience and paid modestly.

Find a work-study gig that complements what you’re studying in school, and it becomes more than a job — it enhances your curriculum.

Did you know?
There are 40-plus cities nationally where student wages cover education costs, according to our 2018 study on working through college.

Con: Positions may be competitive or scarce

Unlike part-time job opportunities, which are numerous, there may be a shortage of options in the work-study program you’re interested in.

If you’re attending a smaller college, there may be less work-study opportunities overall. On a larger campus, competition from other students may mean the position you want gets filled and won’t be available until the next academic term.

The Department of Education recommends that you complete your FAFSA as early as possible to access the federal work-study program’s limited funds.

Con: Compensation may be low

Work-study isn’t like a job where you can request a desired wage or salary. Depending on the award, your financial aid assistance (or pay) is set by the school. If the pay is low, your work-study program may feel like volunteering at times.

Federal work-study only guarantees that you’ll make the federal minimum wage, which was $7.25 as of July 2020. If you study and work in a state with a higher minimum wage, however, you’d enjoy that local bump in pay.

You may not be able work overtime either, as the federal work-study program generally limits students to 20 hours of work per week.

Internship pros and cons

Unlike work-study programs, internships don’t consider your level of financial need as determined by the FAFSA. You can find them via your career services department, attending job fairs and networking with alumni — just some of the ways to make the most of your college experience.

Pros Cons
Vital career exposure
Might lead to a job
Might be unpaid
You may not like it

Pro: Internships give you vital career exposure

An internship in your chosen career field can give you the hands-on experience and exposure you need to land your first job post-graduation.

Internships also allow students to learn more about the workings of their would-be job industry, meet future colleagues and build skills. An internship on your resume and a positive reference from your supervisor are key assets to getting hired in the future.

Pro: You might get hired

Here’s a major point in the column of internships vs. work-study: Make a positive impression, and the company or organization you intern with off-campus might just end up becoming your first full-time job after graduation. Many internships segue into part-time or full-time positions.

Meanwhile, employers participating in work-study programs might be less likely to offer a permanent position; they can always hire the next college kid waiting in line.

Your foot is already in the door with an internship, giving you a competitive edge over other job applicants who don’t have previous internship experience with the organization. It could keep you from being unemployed right out of college.

Con: Many internships aren’t paid

The price many students pay for an internship slot is no pay at all. Internships are often unpaid, with career experience serving as the sole compensation.

If you have expenses and student loans to pay, you may find yourself struggling to cover bills, attend classes and fulfill your internship. That’s one of many reasons to be wary of unpaid internships.

Con: You may not like it

Your internship may teach you that you don’t actually like working in the career path you’ve picked. Or worse, you’ve been delegated to menial job duties that nobody else will take.

While an internship can be a great opportunity for you to discover your strengths and weaknesses, it can also mean that you might need to change majors or reassess your educational or career goals.

Part-time job pros and cons

Lining up a part-time college job might seem trickier, but there could be more opportunities, particularly if you’re willing to work off-campus. That’s one of the pros to consider for this employment type.

Pros Cons
Greater variety of opportunities
Real-world environment
Wage and work inflexibility
Commuting costs

Pro: Greater variety of opportunities

An off-campus job isn’t tied to a school in any way, so you’re free to look for any type of work you like, wherever you choose, online and off.

Additionally, you’re not limited in a number of hours you seek or how much money you can potentially earn. Unlike work-study, which is restricted to financial aid and school budget requirements, you may hit upon an off-campus job that pays far higher than you’d expect.

Start by considering college jobs that pay above minimum wage.

Pro: It places you in a real-world environment

Finding a part-time position off-campus may open the door to social and professional networking opportunities with people outside of the college community.

If you’re seeking a more professional position, it also gives the chance to hone your resume, cover letter and interviewing skills. A part-time job will offer you real-world, career dynamics that could serve you well after graduation when you hit the job market.

Con: Wage and work inflexibility

Unless your part-time job is under the table, your pay is taxable income. The amount you earn with your job could affect the amount you receive in financial aid — your Expected Family Contribution could increase, for example — whereas a work-study job is financial aid and won’t penalize you.

Although a work-study position on campus may establish specific hours for you to work, a part-time job places your employment at the discretion of your employer. They’re free to increase or decrease your pay or hours as they wish, which may interfere with your class schedule.

Did you know?
About 1 in 4 working students have skipped class for their job, according to our 2020 survey on college employment.

Outside employment is also at-will in most states, so your job can be terminated at any time.

Con: Commuting costs

Gas, bus or train fare to commute off-campus to a part-time job can cut into the wages you earn. If you’re only able to work a few hours a week, these expenses can drastically minimize what you may earn.

One workaround is to work from anywhere: Seek out remote jobs for college students that only require a laptop and internet access.

Work-study vs. internship or part-time job: Aim for a mixture of experiences

Your class schedule permitting, look for a mixture of opportunities that imparts the experience and income you need while in school, particularly if you’re paying for college without parental help.

Instead of solely comparing work-study vs. internships, for example, think outside the box. You could divide your efforts between a part-time, unpaid internship and a part-time, paid position. This could be a good compromise that will earn you some money and give you resume-building skills.

If you’re limited to a work-study job, check with your school about the size of the paycheck. If the work-study program is only one semester long, you can search for a paid internship or part-time job for the following semester. This will let you move from one opportunity to the next.

Most of all, assess your own personal and educational preferences. Everyone’s situation — academic, financial and otherwise — is different.

Pursuing paid employment of any kind as a student puts you on the road to making sure that college pays off, and is paid off in the long-run. But it’s not the only way to lower your expenses — review other ways to discount college costs.

Andrew Pentis contributed to this report.

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1 Important Disclosures for College Ave.

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College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.

Rates shown are for the College Ave Undergraduate Loan product and include autopay discount. The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as a valid bank account is designated for required monthly payments. Variable rates may increase after consummation.

This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a freshman borrower who selects the Deferred Repayment Option with a 10-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 8.35% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $179.18 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $21,501.54. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary. This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a first year graduate student borrower who selects the Deferred Repayment Option with a 10-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 7.10% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $141.66 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $16,699.21. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary.

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3 Rate range above includes optional 0.25% Auto Pay discount. Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

  1. Rates include 0.25% Auto Pay Discount
     
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4 Important Disclosures for Ascent.

Ascent Disclosures

Ascent loans are funded by Bank of Lake Mills, Member FDIC. Loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions. Certain restrictions, limitations; and terms and conditions may apply. For Ascent Terms and Conditions please visit: AscentFunding.com/Ts&Cs.

Rates are effective as of 10/01/2021 and reflect an automatic payment discount of either 0.25% (for credit-based loans) OR 1.00% (for undergraduate outcomes income-based loans). Automatic Payment Discount is available if the borrower is enrolled in automatic payments from their personal checking account and the amount is successfully withdrawn from the authorized bank account each month. For Ascent rates and repayment examples please visit: AscentFunding.com/Rates.

1% Cash Back Graduation Reward subject to terms and conditions, please visit AscentFunding.com/Cashback. Cosigned Credit-Based Loan student borrowers must meet certain minimum credit criteria. The minimum score required is subject to change and may depend on the credit score of your cosigner. Lowest APRs are available for the most creditworthy applicants and may require a cosigner.


5 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

Sofi Disclosures

UNDERGRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.13% to 10.66% annual percentage rate (“APR”) (with autopay), variable rates from 1.12% to 11.23% APR (with autopay). GRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.13% to 10.90% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.10% to 11.34% APR (with autopay). MBA AND LAW SCHOOL LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.08% to 10.86% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.05% to 11.29% APR (with autopay). PARENT LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.23% to 10.66% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.20% to 11.23% APR (with autopay). For variable rate loans, the variable interest rate is derived from the one-month LIBOR rate plus a margin and your APR may increase after origination if the LIBOR increases. Changes in the one-month LIBOR rate may cause your monthly payment to increase or decrease. Interest rates for variable rate loans are capped at 13.95%, unless required to be lower to comply with applicable law. Lowest rates are reserved for the most creditworthy borrowers. If approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, the repayment option you select, the term and amount of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. The SoFi 0.25% autopay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. Information current as of 4/1/2021. Enrolling in autopay is not required to receive a loan from SoFi. SoFi Lending Corp., licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. NMLS #1121636 (>www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org).


6 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.

Citizens Bank Disclosures

Undergraduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.15% – 11.01% (1.15% – 10.24 APR)Fixed interest rates range from 4.18% – 11.70% (4.18% – 10.83% APR).

Graduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.89% – 10.66% (1.89% – 10.41% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.64% – 11.23%% (4.64% – 10.95% APR).

Business/Law Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.89% – 9.22% (1.89% – 8.50% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.38% – 10.44% (4.38% – 9.72% APR).

Medical/Dental Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.89% – 8.02% (1.89% – 7.72% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.28% – 9.24% (4.28% – 8.94% APR).

Parent Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.97% – 7.06% (1.97% – 7.06% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.94% – 8.58% (4.94% – 8.58% APR).

Bar Study Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 4.44% – 9.58% (4.44% – 9.52% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 7.39% – 12.94% (7.40% – 12.83% APR).

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Eligibility Criteria: Applicants must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or eligible non-citizen with a creditworthy U.S. citizen or permanent resident co-signer. For applicants who have not attained the age of majority in their state of residence, a co-signer is required. Citizens Bank reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. Citizens Bank private student loans are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application/Promissory Note, verification of application information, and if applicable, self-certification form, school certification of the loan amount, and student’s enrollment at a Citizens Bank participating school.

Loyalty Discount Disclosure: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower or their co-signer (if applicable) has a qualifying account in existence with us at the time the borrower and their co-signer (if applicable) have submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, or other student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, our checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, and VT and some products may have an associated cost. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate disclosed in the Loan Approval Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan.

Automatic Payment Discount Disclosure: Borrowers will be eligible to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. during such time as payments are required to be made and our loan servicer is authorized to automatically deduct payments each month from any bank account the borrower designates. Discount is not available when payments are not due, such as during forbearance. If our loan servicer is unable to successfully withdraw the automatic deductions from the designated account three or more times within any 12-month period, the borrower will no longer be eligible for this discount.


7 Important Disclosures for Funding U.

Funding U Disclosures

Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are made by Funding University which is a for-profit enterprise. Funding University is not affiliated with the school you are attending or any other learning institution. None of the information contained in Funding University’s website constitutes a recommendation, solicitation or offer by Funding University or its affiliates to buy or sell any securities or other financial instruments or other assets or provide any investment advice or service.


8 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

Offered terms are subject to change and state law restriction. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900), NMLS Consumer Access. If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown.  If you choose to complete an application, we will conduct a hard credit pull, which may affect your credit score. All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 0.15% effective Jan 1, 2021 and may increase after consummation.