If you’ve received a financial aid package with a work-study award, your first thought might be, “Now what?”

And you’re not alone. “Work-study is an innately complicated federal program,” says Justin Mumford, assistant director for student employment in the Office of Student Financial Aid at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In fact, it’s one the programs his office gets the most calls about.

But don’t let a little complication deter you. Work-study is worthwhile. It’s extra money that you can put toward tuition and living expenses. Plus, a work-study job can help build your résumé and launch you into your career. Read on for expert advice on how to leverage your work-study opportunity to the fullest.

1. Budget and Save

“One of the most common misperceptions of work-study is that the money earned is applied directly to tuition and fees,” says Mumford. “In reality, work-study is an award that is earned by working and paid out to students as a paycheck. The student is then able to utilize the funds however they may wish.” This means that while work-study is shown as part of your financial aid package, it actually doesn’t go directly to tuition costs and fees. You get it in a paycheck. If you plan to put the money toward your school expenses, make sure you’re budgeting to save your work-study money.

2. Ask for Help Early

Once you see a work-study offer in your financial aid award package, touch base with the financial aid office or your school’s career center as soon as possible to ask about jobs. “Students really need to discuss with the financial aid office how to go about obtaining a job,” says Joe Weglarz, executive director of student financial services at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York. The application process varies from school to school and sometimes even job to job. Your school may offer online resources such as job boards or in-person job fairs when you get to campus in the fall. It’s important to find out your school’s process so you don’t miss out on the one you want to apply for.

3. Treat It Like a Real Job

Just because your offer includes work-study, it doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed a job. “Students need to take it seriously when they’re going for the interview and present themselves professionally, because it’s not guaranteed,” says Weglarz. This extends after the application and interview process too. Your work-study role is a valuable tool for you to develop your professional skills and get early work experience in your area of interest. Treat it like the real deal.

4. Tell the Hiring Manager You’re Work-Study

Employers may not automatically know that you’re a work-study student when you apply. Mumford explains that sometimes “the only way the employer is aware of a student having a work-study award is if the student discloses that information.” That information could make a big difference in your chances of getting hired. “We have several nonprofit, community-based organizations that will only hire work-study students due to budgetary constraints,” says Mumford. For jobs like those, make it clear that you’re a work-study candidate in your application so you’ll be considered for the position.

5. Focus on Fit

There will be many places offering work-study employment and you’ll want to shop around. Pay is at least the federal or state minimum wage (whichever is higher) and can vary from job to job. Some jobs that require additional training, like being a lifeguard or working in IT support, may come with a higher wage. In addition to pay, be strategic about the type of job you take. “The work opportunity should be one that not only benefits the student financially but also builds their professional repertoire and ideally complements their academic pursuits where possible,” says Mumford. Weglarz agrees: “We really encourage our students to try to follow the trail of their degree.” If you’re not set on a major or career path yet, look for work-study jobs that sync up with your areas of interest.

A work-study job — while daunting at first — is a fantastic opportunity. Follow these steps and you’ll be on your way to making the most of this financial aid offer.