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. Dawn Wotapka, who worked at The Wall Street Journal for a number of years and is now in corporate communications, directly turned her work-study experience at a local NPR station into a career. “My time at WKMS established for me that communications was a field I loved. From there, I was able to begin work at my college newspaper, and that led to my first real newspaper job. Having WKMS on my résumé as a recent graduate helped me stand out.”

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.

Wotapka adds that college students can 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 gave Wotapka a much-needed financial boost. “I got reduced lunch growing up. My clothes came from thrift stores. I was the first person in my family to go to college and I had to work for extra money,” she says. “[Work-study] allowed me to buy much-needed new shoes while starting a career. I feel like work-study was an investment in my future.”

If it’s possible, save some of your earnings for after graduation. You could spend the savings on professional clothes like Wotapka did, or use the money to put toward a move to the city where you can pursue your dream career. The cash could also give you a little flexibility if your career path isn’t immediately lucrative.