JB Pritzker, Governor, State of Illinois

Working While in School

Work may seem like an all too obvious solution to a student's financial problems.  However, various combinations of school and work can benefit different students.   Following are ways that a student can balance work and school and not feel as if they have to choose between the two.

Part-Time Work/Part-Time School

Working part time while going to school part time is not just a financial matter.   It can also be an academic choice.  For the student who wants to go on to college but perhaps isn’t the strongest academically, a balance between work and school can help. 

  • This choice allows the student to devote time to studies.
  • Good grades achieved on a part-time basis opens doors to academic awards.
  • It allows the student to avoid incurring student loan debt, while still "testing the waters" academically.
  • The student gains work experience while working on a degree.

Part-Time Work / Full-Time School

A student may be a bit more sound financially and stronger academically, but may still lack the additional resources needed to meet the full cost of attendance.  Working part time, a student typically chooses between: Federal Work-Study, non-work-study campus employment and regular part-time employment.

Benefits of Federal Work-Study

  • Earnings are not counted as a resource when the student completes the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for the following year.
  • Schedules are typically flexible and the student can work around his/her classes and exam schedule.
  • Students are generally limited to 20 hours per week; however, during school breaks, students can work full time.  And, in the summer, students can earn Federal Work-Study dollars, even if they are not enrolled in classes.
  • Students can get work experience in a wide variety of areas.  Students may also be able to choose a job related to their major or to their extracurricular interests.

Benefits of Non-Work-Study Employment

  • Non-work-study on-campus employment is an option for students who do not have enough demonstrated financial need to qualify for Federal Work-Study.
  • Most of these jobs offer students the same flexibility as is offered to Federal Work- Study students.
  • It is important to remember that non-work-study earnings are treated as income when completing the FAFSA for the next academic year.

Regular Part-Time Employment

  • A student may choose to look for employment off campus for a number of reasons:
    • regular employment typically pays more than on-campus employment;
    • for commuter students, off-campus jobs may be more convenient; and
    • part-time employment in the student's chosen field may be a resume-builder, allow for networking opportunities, and open doors to jobs after college.
  • It is important to note that the earnings from regular employment are treated as income when determining the student's financial need.

Full-Time Work/Part-Time School

There are many reasons why a student may need to work full time and attend college on a part-time basis.  A traditional student with traditional circumstances may be able to completely pay for college out of their own salary.  This is especially true if the student is attending a community college, state university, or even a private school that offers a lower per credit hour rate for part-time students.

Typically students who are working full-time and attending school part-time are not traditional students.  They may be helping to support their family, they may have parents who are not contributing to their education, or they may have children of their own to support.

A student working full time may not earn enough to cover each semester's tuition.  Part-time students are eligible for financial assistance, so even for students working full time, he/she should complete the FAFSA each year.

Full-Time Work/Full-Time School

Cooperative Education (Co-op) programs allow academically talented students to alternate full-time education with full-time employment in their field of study.  The rules governing each Co-op program vary from school to school and company to company, however most have some of the following basic guidelines:

  • in the sophomore or junior year, a student alternates semesters or quarters of school with equivalent terms of employment;
  • the semesters or quarters of work are applied to the degree requirements;
  • the student may receive a paycheck intended for educational use, or may receive tuition payments in exchange for employment;
  • successful completion of the work/school program may lead to employment after graduation; and
  • some programs may take five years to complete.