Need to Know: Your guide to navigating work-study


Need help balancing work study? Here’s a few helpful tips.

Grace Wu, Copy Chief

About 51 percent of Northwestern undergraduates receive some form of financial aid, as of September 2020. These packages include some combination of scholarships and grants, loans and a federal work-study award. 

A work-study award provides students an opportunity to earn money for expenses and savings. Because the award is part of a federal program, work-study students are sometimes prioritized for certain positions on campus since their salary isn’t paid for in full by the University. 

The grant isn’t a guaranteed salary; rather, it is an earnings limit. If you surpass this amount, the office or organization you work for will have to hire you as a “temp” — temporary employee — or you have to stop working. You can hold both a work-study job and a non-work-study job at the same time.

I’ve been an on-campus work-study student my entire time at NU, so here’s a crash course to being a work-study student at the University. 

How do I pick a work-study job? 

In previous years, there were work-study job fairs during Wildcat Welcome where students could walk around the booths, meet potential employers and sign up for interviews. It’s currently uncertain if this year’s upcoming work-study fair will be in-person. However, digital job descriptions are expected to be posted starting Aug. 16 on the University’s work-study website

There are two main groups of work-study jobs: on-campus and off-campus. On-campus jobs are affiliated with the University, and off-campus jobs typically involve a partnership with a local organization, such as a grade school or the public library. 

On-campus jobs include research assistants, administrative assistants and event coordinators, as well as positions at the library, recreational centers and NU Information Technology, with new roles added every year. 

It’s completely up to you where you want to work! Potential factors to consider include the working environment, what knowledge and skill sets you will acquire, what the pay is and how flexible the hours are to your schedule. Some jobs, including those of lower-intensity and higher hourly pay, tend to fill quickly, so be sure to act fast and reach out to supervisors if a particular position catches your eye. 

What do I need to bring with me to campus? 

You will need to bring original documents that establish your identity and employment authorization, such as a passport, driver’s license, certified birth certificate and social security card. Everyone’s situation is different, so please refer to this Human Resources guide to see which combination you will need to bring to campus. 

How do I get paid? 

Work-study students are paid every two weeks. Most NU employers use the time-logging system Kronos, and your supervisor approves of your logged hours at the end of the pay period. If you ever find an error (or forget to log your hours before the deadline), communicate that with your supervisor and submit a Time Record Historical Edit Request Form to Payroll. 

You can choose to either receive your stipend through physical checks (mailed to your dorm or off-campus address) or direct deposit to your bank account. 

How much money should I expect to earn? 

Your work-study grant on your financial aid isn’t money that is directly given to you; you have to earn it through your job. Hence, it is possible to not receive the full award if you don’t work enough hours throughout the quarter and academic year. Note that the maximum work-study students are allowed to work at their job is 15 hours per week, and unearned money does not roll over to the following quarter and academic year. 

Since you will be working within the state of Illinois, state income tax will be deducted from your paycheck. You have the option to fill out federal and state W-4 forms. 

How do I balance “work” and “study” during my time at NU? 

There is no single work-study experience, so it really depends on what aspect of your college life you want or need to prioritize. Sometimes, one’s financial situation makes it almost impossible to not work under 12 hours a week or have multiple jobs; and it is also possible to not hold a work-study position even if you receive the grant. In my experience, good time management has been crucial since balancing a full course load and a packed extracurricular schedule can get overwhelming. If you ever experience immeasurable strain balancing these different aspects of your life, I encourage you to communicate your concerns with your work-study supervisor — my personal experience showed they want to help and accommodate you! 

Email: [email protected]

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