Navigating Work-Study at Penn

By Naomi Fink on July 16, 2020

Let’s face it; attending the University of Pennsylvania is expensive! And unfortunately, the price keeps going up. For 2020-21, the cost of tuition is a baffling $53,166, a 3.9% increase from the 2019-2020 cost of tuition which in turn was a 3.9% increase from the year before. Add in housing, dining, and fees and you’re at $75,351 before you’ve even factored in textbooks, supplies, travel expenses, or personal expenses! (This is also after the housing subsidy due to the abridged semester on-campus plans due to COVID-19.)

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Luckily, Penn has financial aid available — and 45% of Penn students are receiving it this year. If you’re one of these students, you might also notice a work-study award as part of your financial aid package. Yet, what does it mean to receive a work-study award? How can you take advantage? According to Penn, “It is the student’s responsibility to conduct a job search, apply for jobs, interview, and be hired,” meaning that after you receive a work-study award, it’s up to you to figure out the rest.

Thanks to Penn’s unhelpful tip, navigating work-study at Penn can be an unnecessarily complicated process. To make it easier for you, here’s a step by step guide to help you understand work-study and make the most of your Penn financial aid package!

Firstly, what is work-study and how does it work?

Great question! Work-study is a federal grant given to the university that allows approved employers to receive a subsidy when you work for them. It is not a grant that is given to you directly. Rather, the number reflected in your award notice is the maximum amount you can earn during the academic year, assuming you decide to take on a work-study position. For example, if you receive a $3,500 work-study award, that means you can earn up to $3,500 for all your work-study efforts during the academic year.

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Okay, so how does work-study help me? 

Receiving a work-study award gives you an edge over your competitors. If a work-study student and a non-work-study student apply to the same job and are both qualified candidates, employers will often hire the work-study student because they receive a subsidy for doing so. Alternatively, you can also talk to your financial aid counselor to turn your work-study award into a loan from Penn if you do not wish to work. Having a work-study job is an extra responsibility, but it can also be a great way to earn some money and get work experience!

I’m in! How do I get a work-study job? 

Students can apply for approved work-study positions by doing a job search on Penn’s Student Employment page. From there, you’ll need to email your potential employer and set up an interview. It’s best to do this at the beginning of the academic year when you first get to campus since open work positions get filled fast. Apply to multiple jobs in case you don’t get your top pick and make sure to have your resume prepared in advance.

What type of job should I look for?

Student Employment Services have many different types of jobs available, so lean into your interests! If you’re a Psychology major like me, you might want to check out jobs that have a research component or have to do with mentoring or HR. Check off the categories that sound interesting to you, see what options are available, and select a few jobs to apply to. You should hear back within a few days, and if you don’t, email your potential employer again to follow up! Also be aware that different work-study positions offer different wages. Keep that in mind when considering your options. It’s a lot easier to earn $3,500 if you’re working for $15/hour than if you’re working for $8/hour.

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That makes sense. Once I get a job offer then, does that mean I’m all set?

Unfortunately, no — but congratulations on the job offer! Once you’ve received a work-study job offer that you’d like to accept, you and your employer will have to do some paperwork. On your end, this will require you to complete an onboarding process which includes filling out some forms in Workday@Penn and making a trip to the Onboarding Office on campus. (Appointments are currently being held online due to COVID-19 so be sure to call in.) To be onboarded, you’ll also need some documentation. Check out the list of necessary documentation in advance to make sure you have what you need.

How many hours should I work?

How many hours you work is entirely up to you and your employer. Some jobs may require more or fewer hours than others and you may have more or less time depending on your class schedule, course load, and any clubs or activities you may be involved in.

According to Penn’s work-study guidelines, students are allowed to work up to 20 hours per week when classes are in session and up to 40 hours per week when classes are not in session, like during spring/winter break. However, managing 20 hours of work with a full course load is extremely challenging, if not impossible. Work as many hours as you feel you can manage.

I personally worked 11 hours a week during my freshman year (while taking 5-6 courses) and found it to be very difficult. I’d recommend starting out with 6-8 hours per week and adjusting as you see fit. It can be tempting to take on more hours — after all, the more hours you work, the more you get paid — but your grades and your health are more important than any amount of money you might be earning. If your work-study job is affecting your grades or causing you an unhealthy amount of stress, talk to your employer about cutting back on your hours and/or talk to someone from the Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). Your well-being and education come first.

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Thanks for the note of caution; I’ll keep that in mind. For whatever hours I do work though, how can I get paid?

Work-study students can log their hours and get paid by submitting a timesheet at the end of each week through Workday@Penn. The hours will then be processed and approved by your employer. Assuming you opted to be paid via direct deposit when onboarding, your earnings will appear in your bank account within a week or two of you submitting your weekly hours.

Awesome! And what if I don’t earn the full amount of my work-study award by the end of the year?

Student employment options are not very high paying jobs and most people do not work enough hours to earn the full amount indicated by their financial aid package. That’s okay and totally normal. Work-study is meant to help you land a job, get experience, and earn some money; it’s not the be-all-end-all. Whatever money you earn is more than you had before and therefore less money you will have to take out in loans and pay back to Penn later. Depending on how much your parents may be contributing, you may even make more than enough money to cover your costs!

The prospect of work-study can be daunting and navigating work-study at Penn, in particular, can be a challenge, yet you will persevere! Do your best, know your limits, and try to maintain a positive attitude. You’ve got this!

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