In America, a small percentage of college students apply for the Federal Work-Study Program, which is a financial aid program that allows students to get paid for part-time jobs. Originally a part of the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 but officially taking its own form in 1999, the Federal Work-Study Program has helped students for decades. With regard to eligibility, certain students from both low- and middle-income families are able to apply. Contrary to common belief, the money they receive does not go toward tuition, but rather is “extra money” for the applicant to use as they please.
At Penn, I've realized that very few people talk about working, let alone having work-study jobs. Even when students do discuss it, it's in lowered voices. The fear seems to be based on the idea that to be eligible for a work-study job, a student must be poor, and to be considered poor in America — especially at Penn — is to be considered lesser than others. Being a work-study student was a part of my identity that I planned, but was not able to hide. After applying to a plethora of jobs, I eventually got one working at the reference desk in the library. I saw new and familiar faces every day and I could not hide this part of my identity. Upon talking to other working students, I realized that I was not alone in my shame.
As the days continued, I questioned why we, as working students, were so embarrassed. What was so humiliating about not growing up wealthy? What was so shameful about working? Being a work-study student reveals so much more than one’s financial state; in fact, it uncovers a lot of a positive characteristics. To all working students: Stop feeling embarrassed about working, and instead, embrace it.