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If your award letter includes a work-study opportunity, it’s definitely worth considering.

Besides earning extra money to use for college, a work-study job can be a valuable asset in pursuing your future career goals. Here, graduates who’ve benefited from work-study positions, along with admission and financial aid experts, offer their advice for making the most of the experience.

Find a Job in Your Field

David Dollins, associate vice president for Enrollment Management at Clarion University of Pennsylvania, suggests looking for something that ties in with your major. If you know what career you want to pursue, even better. Find a job that gives you experience in that field. For example, if you’re hoping to work in media or communications, a work-study position at a radio station could be a good fit. Or if you’d like to pursue a career in theatre, you could look into gigs at the box office that may come with perks like free shows and exposure to potential mentors. 

Target Your Interests

If you don’t have a clear sense of your major, your work-study job can still help you pursue your future career goals, even if they’re a bit hazy. Esther Gonzalez Freeman, a higher education administrator and owner of Empowered Campus, advises undecided students to find a work-study position that aligns with their current interests. 

Erika Jelinek, now a high school librarian in Portland, Oregon, did just that and had great success. She selected a work-study position in the Skidmore College library. “When I started working at the library my sophomore year, it never occurred to me that library work would eventually become my career. I sought it out because I loved libraries and it seemed like it would be a nice working environment, something that I would actually enjoy and be able to do while also being in school full-time.” The experience paved the way for her career in library sciences. 

Put Your Best Foot Forward

Even if your work-study position doesn’t feel like a direct stepping stone to a career, the contacts you make while working can be helpful in your future job search process. Dollins advises students to be go-getters in their work-study roles, no matter what the position. If you work hard and make a good impression on your managers, you “will gain professional references to help in securing that first job out of college,” he says.

Develop Skills and a Network

Work-study jobs are also a way to develop skills that aren’t taught in a classroom. Your position could teach you “soft skills in communication, organization, networking and other important developmental areas,” says Dollins. Acquiring these skills before you hit the full-time workforce will put you leaps and bounds ahead of other entry-level workers. 

College students can also make the most of their work-study experience by finding a mentor. Having a solid relationship with an experienced professional will be beneficial throughout your career. A mentor can help with guidance on issues like salary negotiations, difficult bosses and job transitions.  

Spend Your Earnings Wisely

In addition to workplace experience, work-study jobs also pay a salary, which you can put toward college expenses or savings. You can use your wages to help offset what you would otherwise need to borrow in student loans. And if it’s possible, try to save some of your earnings for after graduation. You could spend the savings on professional clothes, or use the money to put toward a move to the city where you can pursue your career. The cash could also give you a little flexibility if your career path isn’t immediately lucrative.  

Whether it’s gaining experience, a mentor, skills or the financial flexibility to pursue your career, a work-study job  can be a great option during college. 

Interviews for this article were conducted in 2018.

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