Is work-study all it’s cracked up to be?

The pros and cons of participating in U of T’s program for working in university

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.

Pro: Money!

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.

University alerts students to alleged sexual assault

Suspect described as Caucasian male with short brown hair, approximately five feet nine inches in height

The University of Toronto is urging students, staff, and faculty to be on alert for the suspect in an alleged sexual assault.

According to a community alert sent out to members of the university community at approximately 10:00 pm, a female student “reported that she was touched inappropriately by an unknown male” on the St. George campus around 4:00 pm on Tuesday. The suspect fled.

The university issued a community alert earlier on September 30 regarding the suspect, warning students about “an individual who is exposing himself while on the St. George campus grounds.”

The suspect is described as a Caucasian male with short brown hair, and is approximately five feet nine inches in height.

He was seen wearing a black-brimmed baseball hat with a brown toque over top. He was also seen wearing dark baggy clothing, and is possibly carrying a black knapsack or duffle bag.

Members of the university community are advised not to approach the suspect, and to report any sightings to campus police immediately. Toronto Police are also investigating.

Update (Thursday, October 2): An arrest has been made in connection with the case.

Guide to opt-out fees

Full-time undergraduate students can opt out of certain fees by visiting the UTSU office

Full-time undergraduate students at the University of Toronto pay around $1,000 on incidental, system access, and ancillary fees each year. These fees are used to fund student services and societies. While many fees are compulsory, others are optional. The Varsity compiled a list of fees that full-time undergraduate students may not know they pay and can opt out of between now and October 3.

Health Plan — $73.56
The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) health plan is provided through Green Shield, a national not-for-profit insurance provider. The plan includes coverage for prescriptions, exams, and certain medical equipment. If your parents have insurance through work, you might be covered under them and not need the student plan.

Dental Plan — $66.27
The dental plan is also provided through Green Shield. The plan includes coverage for basic preventative services, restorative services, and oral surgery. If your parents have insurance through work, you may be under their coverage and not need the student plan.

Women’s Centre — $1.50
The Women’s Centre is a not-for-profit, drop-in space for women and trans people that provide resources and information on racism, sexism, health, poverty, and other social issues. They also hold events and classes on topics ranging from cooking to sign language.

Downtown Legal Services — $1.50
Downtown Legal Services provides public education on legal issues, and offers free legal assistance and representation for people that might not be able to afford it otherwise. 

Students for Barrier Free Access — $1.00
Students for Barrier Free Access advocates for the rights of U of T students with disabilities, and aims to eliminate physical and attitudinal barriers on campus for disabled students.

Day Care Subsidy — $0.50
The day care subsidy assists parents, foster parents, and legal guardians of children ages zero to nine with the costs of childcare.

Ontario Public Interest Research Group — $0.50
Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) is an organization that researches and provides public education on social and environmental justice. There are 11 public interest research groups at Ontario university campuses

Orientation — $0.50
Orientation programming includes a variety of events are held to orient and welcome new students.

University of Toronto Environmental Resource Network — $0.50
The University of Toronto Environmental Resource Network is an umbrella organization that aids environmental projects and promotes sustainable practices across the three U of T campuses.

Bike Chain ­— $0.50
Bike Chain is a facility that offers free bicycle rentals, encourages bicycling, and provides hands-on education on bike repair and maintenance.

Sexual Education and Peer Counselling Centre — $0.25
The Sexual Education and Peer Counselling Centre is a drop-in centre that provides educational materials, peer advice, and resources for safe sex.

Cinema Studies Students’ Union — $0.25
The Cinema Studies Student Union represents the university’s cinema studies students, and promotes cinema on campus through events and screenings.

Blue Sky Solar Car Team — $0.13
The Blue Sky Solar Car Team is a multidisciplinary team that designs and builds solar cars and represents the U of T at various events and challenges in an effort to educate students, as well as to advance the field of solar automotive technology.