Let’s face the facts: College is expensive. Hell, I started complaining about tuition before I even knew what a FAFSA was. Sometimes, it can feel as though student loan debt is a black hole that you will never be able to dig your way out of. Luckily, the Federal Work Study Program (FWS) offers students an easy route to supplement their finances as they go through college.

An FWS is a part-time job for undergraduate and graduate students that allows them to earn money to put towards their education expenses. Unfortunately, a lot of FWS opportunities are more or less busy work, rather than any sort of academic enrichment for students. It is imperative that during these formative years, students look for educational and interesting opportunities in order to not only supplement their finances, but also their resume.

Rising freshman Oonagh Kelly knew that out of classroom opportunities were just as important as the in-class ones when it came to picking a college. Kelly decided on Elon University based on the programs they offered. “I was really attracted to the sound of work study options,” remarked Kelly. “It’s incredibly immersive and seems to make students uniquely qualified for their desired field of study even before they graduated.”

Merry Reed, a rising junior at Temple University, is a perfect example of FWS making students uniquely qualified for their field of study, as Kelly so aptly described it. Reed is a STEAM education intern for Temple’s College of Science and Technology. Reed has various responsibilities in order to assist in teaching students. An Early Childhood Education major, Reed’s FWS has given her a great opportunity for work experience. 

“I have learned how to be a better educator and how to [create a] lesson plan, work in teams and it also really helped me to learn about some of the different parts of my city,” noted Reed. “Traveling to different neighborhoods to teach, really helped build my confidence.” 

Reed, along with all employees at Temple, get paid in paychecks, allowing her to spend it however she likes. “Having a job that fits itself [into] my class schedule is valuable beyond belief, as I can earn money, attend class and have money for groceries, utilities and make life a lot more comfortable for me.”

Dana-Cai McCabe, a rising sophomore at Arcadia University works for Arcadia’s world-renowned art gallery and office. “I heard about my work study position through a close friend of mine. When I came to the university the next year, I went to the art office to ask if they were hiring, and within a week I got an interview,” explained McCabe. “I was the only freshman they hired.” 

McCabe’s duties include watching and cleaning the galleries, helping anyone that's visiting and carrying through the basic procedures within the art office. She also helps out during special gallery exhibitions and DJ. As an Art Therapy major, McCabe regards her FWS as extremely helpful, as it's allowed her to form strong bonds with Arcadia’s art professors. McCabe advised new college students looking for unique FWS opportunities to “ask some of your professors about working for the department, even starting small with filing papers or looking after a lab is super important and great for resumes for outside jobs!”

An important part of finding an immersive and educational FWS is finding bosses that are just as passionate about the program as the students are. David Schloss, head of Drexel University’s Butterfly Exhibit FWS program, is a perfect example of this. “Work Study students are expected to be able to perform at a co-op level of competency. They are trained to open and close the exhibit, run it with a manager, be knowledgeable about butterflies and the other animals in the space and share that knowledge with the visitors, assist in animal husbandry and still be flexible to pinch hit and help out in other spaces as needed,” Schloss explained. Students who work at the exhibit are sure to gain public speaking skills, animal care skills and knowledge regarding various topics related to the natural sciences, including ecology and sustainability. 

“Our butterflies are raised in butterfly farms in their native habitats. This engages local populations in conservations efforts and helps make sure exhibits like ours do not affect native butterfly populations,” Schloss said. “We cover both how our butterflies would interact with their habitats and also blend into citizen science and the ways that people can help out local butterfly species.”

Marie Fayssoux, rising sophomore at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, works for Wonder Connection, “a one-of-a-kind program that brings science and nature activities to children at UNC hospitals and UNC Ronald McDonald House. A lot of my time is spent organizing activities, gathering materials and contacting guest scientists and volunteers. Every once in awhile I got to help teach a class in the pediatric psych unit and help with events at Ronald McDonald House,” Fayssoux described. A Human Development/Family Studies major who wishes to pursue a career as a child life specialist, Fayssoux believes that Wonder Connection has helped to enrich her education beyond the classroom.

Fayssoux remarked, “It's always a good idea to apply to multiple work study positions but do your best to find ones that interest you. Take time to go through the database of jobs available at your university and do a little research on the ones that jump out at you.”

While scholarships and savings can cover a lot of the costs associated with college, Federal Work Study programs are great way of not only paying off tuition, but affording those hidden costs that no one warns you about.  Do some research and ask around about FWS opportunities that attract you!

Lead image credit: Green Chameleon via Unsplash