Work-study positions at the University of Toronto provide students with hundreds of part-time work opportunities throughout the school year. Whether it means working in administrative positions, or acting as a research assistant over the summer, there are a plethora of opportunities for full-time and part-time students to gain some experience through the program, as well as a bit of extra cash.
The question is, are these positions really valuable experiences? When it comes to work-study, there are both pros and cons, and it’s important to consider both when deciding to take on the extra commitment. After doing a bit of research and talking to other work-study students like myself, I made a list to weigh the benefits and disadvantages of the work-study life.
Pro: The experience
Since I came to U of T, I have worked with Ulife and at the Centre for International Experience. As an international student, these opportunities have been both insightful and beneficial. Getting into the administrative side of the university has provided me with a stepping-stone towards building connections and developing skill sets that I didn’t have before.
The professors and employers students work with through the work-study program are advanced in their respective fields. They not only provide lessons, but also guidance in order to help students build on both strong and weak suits. The work experience provides insight into human resources, marketing, research, and finance and career development. It looks great on your resume, and more often than not, you are provided with stellar recommendation letters for the future.
Con: Looking for experience
When it comes to work-study, you only get as much out of it as you put in. Interviews with students showed that work-study satisfaction relies quite heavily on the person you work with, and the workload. While some students described positive experiences with supervisors who put their skills to use and acted as mentors, this was not a universal experience.
Some students felt under-used and under-appreciated in their positions, where they spent their work hours sitting in front of laptops, completing their homework or playing Candy Crush while no work is given to them. This may seem like a dream at first, where you get paid to “do nothing,” but in many cases, students reported feeling useless and felt like they learned nothing from their experiences.
Pro: Resume building and interview practice
Work-study positions are often the first place students get to practice putting together resumes and cover letters. This is especially pertinent for international students, who until recently could not work off campus without permits, leaving work-study positions as one of the few ways to prepare for post university work life. Each work-study position is different, and requires a multitude of skill sets. Due to this, students get valuable experience in writing versatile and eye-catching cover letters and resumes, a skill that is invaluable later on in life.
Con: Resume and cover letter writing
Job applications are a double-edged sword. With essays, assignments, presentations, and finals, it is both tedious and time consuming to pen out (or type out) multiple versions of personalized cover letters and resumes. It is more discouraging when a lot of employers at the university have disclaimers stating “you will only be contacted if you qualify for an interview,” which means than many students do not get feedback on their applications at all. It’s even worse when students apply for jobs only to later read the fine print in job descriptions to realize that many positions are only available for graduate-level students, students in specific programs, or students that meet high GPA expectations.
As students at U of T, we always require some extra cash. Whether you are an international student who is broke after paying your fees, or a local student who is broke after buying textbooks from the bookstore, that $11 an hour (+4 per cent vacation pay) is welcome. Work-study jobs only require 8-12 hours of commitment a week, and offer compensation for students.
Cons: What money?
While work-study positions are supposed to be limited to 8-12 hours a week, most positions require a lot more work than that. Whether it be staying on and organizing events, or drafting hundreds of emails to potential sponsors on and off campus, a hard-working student is often underpaid for their services.
Working on the limited wage means that a student cannot make more than $528 a month if they work 12 hours a week. That isn’t even enough to pay for rent, let alone fund food or other expenses. Additionally, there is a 180 hour limit on how many hours students can work in a year. While this provides students with extra time to study for courses, it means that you can only make a maximum of $2000 in an entire school year, which is almost the price of a round-trip ticket for me to fly home.
Work-study positions at U of T come with their ups and downs, and it is important to consider whether the added few lines to your resume are worth the extra stress and low pay, or whether the experiences and networking really makes up for the slow days and the late nights.
Pratishtha Kohli is a third-year student at Woodsworth College studying psychology and criminology.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that the author was a fourth-year student.