While many student jobs can relieve students of potential debt, some aspects of work-study employment — including lack of rollover money and summer restrictions — may only add to student stress.
One benefit of work-study is the amount of options students have.
Rising College junior Dudley Charles said he “applied for more jobs at Penn than at home because [he] had more options.”
There are many jobs offered on campus that are unavailable to non-work-study students. For example, “it is a requirement to have work-study to work at the front desk of Du Bois,” rising College senior Auriel Gallimore said.
“Employers are always glad to hear I am in work-study because they know they can get me for half-off,” Charles said. “In the past year, I have been able to receive more job opportunities and funding.”
Rising College junior Zachary Dorsen agreed. “There is a priority for work-study students in jobs on campus. Departments don’t have that much money, so they can only choose to hire work-study students.”
Student Registration and Financial Services spokesperson Marlene Bruno said the student employment office has no control over what specific jobs students get. “It is between them and the department [in which they are applying].”
To apply for some jobs through the student employment office’s work-study website, Gallimore said all that is required is a basic interview, in which “you just give them your name and the job is guaranteed.”
“But this depends on the position you apply for because a research assistant position has a more rigorous application process,” Gallimore added.
Charles had a different experience, noting that he applied to many positions, but did not get many responses from on-campus employers and departments. “You cast your net wide and hope that someone picks you out of the multitude of emails they are sifting through,” Charles said.
Through the work-study program, Dorsen said he is now given the opportunity to work. “It made me take the initiative to find a job on campus and even if the positions are not impressive or noteworthy, it shows that I am responsible and accountable.”
“Work-study parents don’t have the ability to put money in their students’ bank accounts whenever they need it,” Charles said. “Without money and no work you are not able to do much at Penn.”
“The money I make does not go directly to pay for tuition, room or board,” Dorsen said. “I can choose to spend the money I earn through work-study as I would with a regular job.”
However, students believe the program can use some improvement.
As a transfer student, Gallimore believed there should have been some sort of support given to work-study students to help them find a suitable job. Gallimore found it “was difficult to navigate the applying, the website was not helpful and no jobs aligned with [her] interests.” She instead found jobs through other avenues using connections with people she already knew.
“We award a work-study job in the financial aid package, but it is up to the student if they want to take the job,” Bruno said. “Some students choose not to use the money.”
Dorsen believes the work-study program has given him “just the right level of guidance.”
“The program streamlined the process and made it easier to apply,” he said. “Through Penn-in-Touch, I can even check my class schedule and paycheck at the same time.”
Despite her positive experience with work-study jobs, in addition to preferring more contact with the student employment office, Gallimore would change the policy regarding “unclaimed” work-study money. If a student is unable to find a job soon after the semester begins, the student will lose whatever money remains in the work-study grant.
“The money should roll over,” Gallimore said. “Money left over from the past semester should move into the next semester or even the summer so we aren’t losing our money.”
She would also like to see paychecks paid on time and adhere better to the pay schedule available on the student employment office’s website.
Charles said the 40-hour workweek restriction during the summer is just that — restricting.
“But the 20-hour work-week restriction is fair and necessary during the school year because of other extracurricular activities,” Charles said. “I needed a job during the year, but I wanted something with less of a time constraint.”
Charles added that planning a schedule is necessary to committing to a work-study job. “Work-study can easily become a detriment or worsen one’s academic future if it becomes too much of a problem.”
He wants to see a travel expense added into the contracts Penn establishes with off-campus employers or shuttles specifically tasked to take students to and from off-campus jobs. “Work-study jobs get you off campus, gets you out of the Penn bubble, but Penn needs to make it less of a headache to work off campus.”
“But obviously they aren’t just going to hand us a job too,” Dorsen said. “Whoever has work-study and wants a job could get it.”