While standing in the mile-long 10 a.m. line for coffee on campus, you can already see that the newest employee is fumbling with the cash register, the orders, the pastries—everything. Over the course of your unreasonably long wait, you question why this student decided to add a job into the mix.

Most new student worker trainees eventually get the hang of their work, though, and it is not uncommon for students to work while taking classes and doing other extracurriculars. We have student workers in food service, computer labs and offices across campus. However, there are restrictions on how much students can work, where they can work and who they can work for.  

Working on Campus

The regulations placed on the amount of hours you can work as a student employee are pretty straightforward, especially for students making use of federally-regulated financial aid.

 If you have taken a good look at your FAFSA awards, you may have noticed the Federal Work-Study (FWS) category, the total of which is not automatically calculated into your overall financial aid package that the school applies to your tuition. FWS, as defined by the Student Employment Office (SEO), is “… a federally funded program administered by RIT to promote access to employment. This program assists students who demonstrate financial need as defined by the Federal Government.”

Since one of the requirements that students must meet to qualify for an FWS program is that they be a full-time student, the regulated maximum hours for student workers clocks in at 20 hours per week while classes are in session and 40 hours a week during intersession and breaks.

While not all student jobs on campus are eligible for Work-Study, meaning that their pay is not allotted as part of their financial aid package and may not be eligible for the same tax deduction, the same rules and regulations are generally held in place. But, like many rules, there are exceptions.

The first is that the 20 hours per week limit isn’t a steadfast rule. The federal government won’t be knocking at your door demanding answers if you go over by a few hours, but there will definitely be push from your employers or the SEO if you start to exceed part-time hours. After all, the amount of funds you can receive from a FWS is limited, as are the number of hours employers have available for student workers.

Students are also allowed to work more during certain times of the year, including summer breaks and other breaks when full-time classes are not in session.

Jobs paid through stipend are one of the most notable exceptions to the hourly limitations. Stipend jobs are those where you receive a fixed salary, regardless of the number of hours worked. No punching in, no punching out. They are generally reserved for student leadership positions, such as executive positions of Major Student Organizations and Student Government.

On average, according to the SEO Student Handbook, non-stipend student employees work between eight and 12 hours a week.

Some students avoid the maximum number of hours in order to find a suitable balance between class loads, work hours and any other commitments. Lauren McShane, a fourth year Professional and Technical Communication major, experienced some of the difficulties that come with working while taking classes.

Following a spring co-op with Student Services in the College of Liberal Arts, McShane transitioned into a part-time job in the office while taking summer online classes.

“Working for Student Services was a little tricky. I worked 21 hours a week, but when I got home I was exhausted. I wasn’t able to start working [on class work] right away.”

As a former reporter for SportsZone, McShane mentioned that there are also some pros of on-campus work when schedules are less structured. “With SportsZone, it was nice,” McShane said. “There was a lot flexibility to work with our schedules. We had one meeting a week that we definitely went to, but our hours for interviews or games were more flexible.”

International Student Workers

Work limitations for international students are a little trickier and depend on whether a student’s visa is F-1 or J-1. Students with an F-1 visa may work up to 20 hours on campus while classes are in session and 40 hours during breaks and intersession, much like domestic students. However, to work off campus while being a full-time student, F-1 visa students must go through Optional Practical Training which may allow for part-time off-campus employment in their academic field for a year at most. Optional Practical Training also requires that the student be at least nine months into their studies.

Students with J-1 visas may also work 20 hours on campus, but work is limited based on their visa sponsorships. With a J-1 visa, students are funded by a non-familial sponsor, such as the U.S. government or the government of their home country, to attend American universities. Student employment with  a J-1 is usually restricted to working for the student's program sponsors. If a student is sponsored by RIT, he or she will generally have access to employment on campus, but if he or she is not sponsored by RIT, there is a strong possibility that the student cannot become a student worker. J-1 students may also go through Optional Practical Training, but they must have an unforeseen and urgent financial need.

Paola Gonzalez Rodriguez, a fourth year Marketing major on an F-1 visa from the Dominican Republic, has had a plethora of on-campus jobs throughout the years and is currently serving as a note taker, an office worker in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and director of marketing for Global Union. According to Gonzalez Rodriguez, employment opportunities for international students are very limited.

“The general rule for F-1 is that if the specific department has a contract with the U.S. government, you cannot work there,” said Gonzalez Rodriguez, referring to U.S.-born clearances associated with government contracts. “There are [also] certain departments that have an unspoken rule of not hiring international students.”

Like regulations for domestic students, stipend jobs are not counted towards the number of hours international students can work. “Even though I have to dedicate at least 10 hours to Global Union, it's a stipend position,” said Gonzalez Rodriguez. “I could actually work another 10 hours without stipend, but then you have to think about your schedule,” since academic standing is of equal, if not greater, importance.

Some of these regulations on work hours may encourage students to find a balance between work and school, but if students feel that they are able to work more hours, stipends provide another option for additional income for both domestic and international students. In the end, figuring out how many hours you should work comes down to balancing your financial need with your classes and any other commitments you decide to take on.

For more information on being a student worker on or off campus, visit the Student Employment Office.