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

August 1, 2020 Loans & Finance

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 the best choice possible.

Review the pros and cons of:

Work-study programs
Internships
Part-time jobs

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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.br-none br{display:none}1 Important Disclosures for Discover.
Discover Disclosures
Students who get at least a 3.0 GPA (or equivalent) qualify for a one-time cash reward on each new Discover undergraduate and graduate student loan. Reward redemption period is limited. Please visit DiscoverStudentLoans.com/Reward for any applicable reward terms and conditions.
View Auto Reward Debit Reward Terms and Conditions at DiscoverStudentLoans.com/AutoDebitReward.
Aggregate loan limits apply.
Lowest APRs shown are available for the most creditworthy applicants and include an interest-only repayment discount and Auto Debit Reward. The interest rate ranges represent the lowest and highest interest rates offered on Discover student loans, including undergraduate and graduate loans. The fixed interest rate is set at the time of application and does not change during the life of the loan. The variable interest rate is calculated based on the 3-Month LIBOR index plus the applicable margin percentage. For variable interest rate loans, the 3-Month LIBOR is 0.375% as of July 1, 2020. Discover Student Loans may adjust the rate quarterly on each January 1, April 1, July 1 and October 1 (the “interest rate change date”), based on the 3-Month LIBOR Index, published in the Money Rates section of the Wall Street Journal 15 days prior to the interest rate change date, rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of one percent (0.125% or 0.00125). This may cause the monthly payments to increase, the number of payments to increase or both. Our lowest APR is only available to customers with the best credit and other factors. Your APR will be determined after you apply. It will be based on your credit history, which repayment option you choose and other factors, including your cosigner’s credit history (if applicable). Learn more about Discover Student Loans interest rates.
Lowest APRs shown for Discover Student Loans are available for the most creditworthy applicants for the Discover Private Consolidation Loan and include an Auto Debit Reward. The fixed interest rate is set at the time of application and does not change during the life of the loan. The variable interest rate is calculated based on the 3-Month LIBOR index plus the applicable margin percentage. For variable interest rate loans, the 3-Month LIBOR is 0.375% as of July 1, 2020. Discover Student Loans may adjust the rate quarterly on each January 1, April 1, July 1 and October 1 (the “interest rate change date”), based on the 3-Month LIBOR Index, published in the Money Rates section of the Wall Street Journal 15 days prior to the interest rate change date, rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of one percent (0.125% or 0.00125). This may cause the monthly payments to increase, the number of payments to increase or both. Our lowest APR is only available to customers with the best credit and other factors. Your APR will be determined after you apply. It will be based on your credit history, which repayment option you choose and other factors, including your cosigner’s credit history (if applicable). Learn more about Discover Student Loans interest rates.

Lowest APRs shown for Discover Student Loans are available for the most creditworthy applicants for undergraduate loans, and include an interest-only repayment discount and a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments.
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3 Important Disclosures for College Ave.
CollegeAve Disclosures

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.

Information advertised valid as of 7/1/2020. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation. Lowest advertised rates require selection of full principal and interest payments with the shortest available loan term.

4 Important Disclosures for Earnest.
Earnest Disclosures
Rates include 0.25% Auto Pay Discount
 
Explanation of Rates “With Autopay” (APD)
Rates shown include 0.25% APR discount when client agrees to make monthly principal and interest payments by automatic electronic payment. Use of autopay is not required to receive an Earnest loan.

Available Terms
For Cosigned loans – 5, 7, 10, 12, 15 years. 
Primary Only – 10, 12, 15 years

In school deferred payment is not available in AL, AZ, CA, FL, MA, MD, MI, ND, NY, PA, and WA).

5 Important Disclosures for SoFi.
sofiDisclosures

UNDERGRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.23% to 11.76% annual percentage rate (“APR”) (with autopay), variable rates from 1.90% to 11.66% APR (with autopay). GRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.13% to 11.83% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.80% to 11.73% APR (with autopay). MBA AND LAW SCHOOL LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.11% to 11.81% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.78% to 11.72% APR (with autopay). PARENT LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.23% to 11.26% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.90% to 11.16% 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 07/10/2020. 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 Ascent.
Ascent Disclosures

Before taking out private student loans, you should explore and compare all financial aid alternatives, including grants, scholarships, and federal student loans and consider your future monthly payments and income. Applying with a cosigner may improve your chance of getting approved and could help you qualify for a lower interest rate. Ascent Student Loans may be funded by Richland State Bank (RSB). Ascent Student Loan products are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application, verification of application information and certification of loan amount by a participating school. Loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions, and certain restrictions, limitations; and terms and conditions may apply. Ascent is a federally registered trademark of Turnstile Capital Management (TCM) and may be used by RSB under limited license. Richland State Bank is a federally registered service mark of Richland State Bank.

Competitive variable rates calculated monthly at the time of loan approval based on a margin plus the 1-Month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) rounded to the nearest 1/100th of a percent. The current LIBOR is 0.190%, which may adjust monthly. Your interest rate may increase or decrease, based on LIBOR monthly changes. Rates are effective as of 07/07/2020 and reflect an Automatic Payment Discount. 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.(See Automatic Payment Discount Terms & Conditions.)

Undergraduate Loans: Variable rate loans have an Annual Percentage (APR) range between 2.73% – 13.01%. Fixed rate loans have an APR range between 3.62% and 14.50% based on your credit worthiness and your selected program. Rates reflect an Automatic Payment Discount of 0.25% (for Credit-Based Loans) on the lowest offered rate and a 2.00% (for Undergraduate Future Income-Based Loans ) discount on the highest offered rate. (See Undergraduate Loan repayment examples.)
Graduate Loans: Variable rate loans have an APR range between 5.33% and 11.42%. Fixed rate loans have an APR range between 6.14% and 11.92% based on your credit worthiness and your selected program. Rates reflect an Automatic Payment Discount of 0.25%. (See Graduate Loan repayment examples.)

Payments may be deferred. Subject to lender discretion, forbearance and/or deferment options may be available for borrowers who are encountering financial distress.
Making interest only or partial interest payments while in school will not reduce the principal balance of the loan. There are three (3) flexible in-school repayment options that include fully deferred, interest only and $25 minimum repayment. (See Undergraduate Loan repayment examples.)
Flexible repayment plans may be offered up to a fifteen (15) year repayment term for a variable rate loan and ten (10) year repayment term for a fixed rate loan. Students must be enrolled at least half-time at an eligible school. Minimum loan amount is $2,000.
Interest rate reduction of either 0.25% (for Credit-Based Loans) or 2.00% (for Undergraduate Future Income-Based Loans) applies only when the borrower and/or cosigner sign up for automatic payments and the payment amount is successfully deducted from the designated bank account each month. The amount of the discount is dependent upon the loan product and credit history of the borrower at the time of application. Interest rate reduction(s) will not apply during periods when no payment is due, including periods of in-school, deferment, grace or forbearance, unless a regular payment amount has been arranged with the servicer. If you have two (2) consecutive returned payments for Nonsufficient Funds, we may cancel your automatic debit enrollment and you will lose the interest rate reduction. You will then need to re-qualify and re-enroll in automatic debit payments to receive the interest rate reduction.(See Automatic Payment Discount Terms & Conditions.)
All applicants (individual and cosigner) are required to complete a brief online financial literacy course as part of the application process to be eligible for funding.
Eligibility, loan amount and other loan terms are dependent on several factors, which may include: loan product, other financial aid, creditworthiness, school, program, graduation date, major, cost of attendance and other factors. Aggregate loan limits may apply. The cost of attendance is determined and certified by the educational institution.
The legal age for entering into contracts is eighteen (18) years of age in every state except Alabama where it is nineteen (19) years old, Nebraska where it is nineteen (19) years old (only for wards of the state), and Mississippi and Puerto Rico where it is twenty-one (21) years old.
1% Cash Back Graduation Reward subject to terms and conditions. Click here for details. In order to be eligible for the 1% Cash Back Graduation Reward, borrower must meet the following criteria after graduation:

The student borrower has graduated from the degree program that the loan was used to fund.
The student borrower may change majors and/or transfer to a different school, but must obtain the same level of degree (e.g. – undergraduate or graduate)
The graduation date is more than 90 days and less than five (5) years after the date of the loan’s first disbursement.
Any loan that the student has borrowed under the Ascent loan is not more than 30-days delinquent or in a default status as of the graduation date and until any Graduation Reward is paid.

Students can apply to release their cosigner and continue with the loan in only their name after making the first 24 consecutive regularly scheduled full principal and interest payments on-time and meeting the other eligibility criteria to qualify for the loan without a cosigner.

* Application times vary depending on the applicant’s ability to supply the necessary information for submission.

7 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
CommonBond Disclosures

Offered terms are subject to change and state law restrictions. Loans are offered through CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS #1175900).

 Rates are as of July 1, 2019 and include auto-pay discount. All loans are eligible for a 0.25% reduction in interest rate by agreeing to automatic payment withdrawals once in repayment. Variable rates may increase after consummation.

1.24% – 11.37%1 Undergraduate and Graduate

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1.25% – 9.44%*,2 Undergraduate and Graduate

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1.24% – 11.98%3 Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents

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1.24% – 11.44%4 Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents

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1.90% – 11.66%5 Undergraduate and Graduate

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2.73% – 13.01%6 Undergraduate and Graduate

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3.52% – 9.50%7 Undergraduate and Graduate

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