Budgeting your time

By CASSANDRA LANDRY  |  January 8, 2009

Meeting in the middle
Michelle Webber, a Boston University sophomore, is employed through her university's work-study program. After shelving and re-shelving books as a library assistant her freshman year, Webber currently works as a senior office assistant in one of the dormitory computer labs.

"I took the job because I happened to qualify for work-study, which was nice," says Webber, who was awarded the opportunity through her financial-status application. "I wanted to be able to have a source of spending money independent from my family. They pay enough."

Navigating the work-study hierarchy for the best jobs in a limited pool can be frustrating, Webber adds, and sometimes more difficult than finding a job off-campus. But the flexibility that comes with the territory is one of the best deals around.

"They all know that you are at [school] to study, so if you need to ask for a shift off because you have school-related things to do, or final exams, or maybe you need just a little more time to study, you can do it," she says.

For students looking to break the bank, however, work-study may not be the wisest choice. Many schools, BU included, limit the amount of money employees can make and how many shifts per week they work, so padding the paycheck is next to impossible.

Work-study situations are a comfortable compromise. While an off-campus job has its perks — higher hourly wages, a chance to meet people from outside the college fishbowl, and an opportunity to get a foot in the door for future job prospects — an on-campus job does allow students to do something that's already costing upwards of $35,000 a year: be students.

Unemployment: not a four-letter word
When does it pay not to have a job? When all of the professors (for an overloaded, triple-major, double-minor schedule) decide simultaneously to assign major readings and papers the size of a standard extra-long dorm mattress, sending the average undergrad sprinting for the coffee machines. Or, when that amazing band is coming to the concert venue right down the street for only 20 bucks, and everyone this side of the Mason-Dixon line will be there. A seven- or eight-hour shift in the real world can wreak havoc on both a student's study time and social life.

"The best part about not having a job is being able to do what I want in my free time," Boston University sophomore Beth Forrest says. "I have more time to devote to my homework than my friends who work, and I definitely need that time."

Work-study hours are understandably more accommodating to a college lifestyle; shifts are only around three to four hours long. Part of the commitment of an off-campus job requires the sacrifice of precious study hours, which can hurt around finals time. That is often when parents cry foul, pointing the finger at independent employment as the cause of any stressful late nights and last-minute crunch studying. Working students, on the other hand, shake their head and insist that both jobs and education can be balanced. It's all about knowing personal limits, they say, as well as taking a strong stance with managers about availability.

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