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A student's dilemma: Work more, get less free money
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Work less and bank more?
If it sounds too good to be true, that's because it is. Barry Simmons, financial aid director for Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, says that the size of a student's financial aid package depends on a variety of factors, many of which are completely outside of the student's control. The security of having a safe supply of cash is worth more than the possibility of receiving free money.

Besides, he says, students shouldn't overlook the intangible benefits of work.

"I wouldn't not work because it might result in less aid," says Simmons. "Work ethic is something that everyone needs. Having a job is a great way to network, which is essential for future employment." Instead of focusing on college, Simmons suggests looking at the bigger financial picture. Skipping out on the hard labor now could win you a slightly higher government check; however, you'll be missing out on invaluable work experience and business contacts that could land you your first post-grad career.

Jobs with no strings
To get the best of both worlds -- a real job, as well as a salary that won't subtract from your financial aid package -- Simmons suggests taking advantage of the two types of employment that are exempt from the FAFSA formula. The first and most common type is work-study. Designed to give students an extra monetary boost, those who land work-study jobs put in up to 20 hours per week on or off campus and receive an hourly wage that has absolutely no impact on financial aid eligibility. The catch is that work-study positions are limited and students must financially qualify to receive placement.

Americorps, the other FAFSA-exempt program, doesn't take student financial status into consideration at all when granting positions. Partnered with more than 3,000 nonprofit, community and faith-based organizations, Americorps places willing volunteers in yearlong service positions across the country. Whether feeding the homeless or fighting illiteracy, all Americorps members receive a $4,725 reward which can only be used for educational purposes upon completion of the program.

Next: "Alternative strategies ..."
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