Becoming a Police Officer: Work Study Options (page 2)
Going to school while working is a challenge; for you it may also be a necessity. Your first assignment is finding the balance between education and employment. How many course hours can you take on, including time for studying, researching and writing papers, and taking classes, whether in person or online? How many hours do you need to work to meet your expenses? The type of work, the hours required, and traveling time between work, home, and school all factor into the equation.
If you want to work only in a police agency during your education, check whether your agency of choice or your local police department makes use of reserve, auxiliary, or volunteer officers. Some police departments and sheriffs' offices—but rarely state police agencies—have a position called an auxiliary officer, a part-time officer or a reserve officer. The description varies in different parts of the country and from agency to agency. Sometimes the individuals may be volunteers. In other instances, there may be payment for your time. In general, however, these officers work a limited number of hours per week or per month in support of regular fully-sworn officers. Individuals filling these positions may not be interested in full-time employment as police officers, but others have found them useful as a stepping-stone to joining a department or aiding in finding law enforcement work elsewhere. A good recommendation from a local police chief can be very helpful in adjacent departments.
There is also a possibility that a police agency in your area sponsors sporting programs for youths or other activities where police officers work with community members. If you are talented in one of the areas where police are focusing their attention, you might be offered the chance to assist as a sports or reading coach, or to assist in encouraging citizens to participate in the programs. Although these efforts may be without pay, depending on your skills and the time you are able to devote, the department may at some time offer you monetary compensation through a small stipend, help in paying for books, or support for attending seminars to enhance your leadership or skills training. Here again, a good recommendation from the chief or a senior officer with whom you work can pay greater dividends than the small salary or stipend you might earn.
Work study is used to describe two different types of programs. The first, rare in policing, is for people already working. Here your employer has a policy of allowing you to work fewer hours in order to attend college classes or perhaps vocational schools. A variation on this is the employer who will not reduce your working hours for you to attend classes, but will reimburse you for at least part of your school expenses upon successful completion of your class work, or achievement of a certain grade or certain number of credits or some professional certification or recognition.
The second type of work study program is administered through the college or school you may attend. Your school will help you find employment while you are enrolled. These programs are usually administered through the school's financial aid office. Competition for such aid is keen. If you are looking for tuition assistance be sure to inquire about the types of financial aid, including work study programs, when you begin applying for admission.
The most work study assistance comes from the federal government, which makes grants available to approximately 3,400 participating post-secondary schools. The government allows the schools to establish requirements and restrictions involving the Federal Work Study Program funds, but all jobs must pay at least the federal minimum wage. The work may be at the school itself, performing jobs in the library or at residence halls, or perhaps staffing security posts.
Most university and college police departments have positions that are available to work study students. These are not the glamour jobs. It could be routine clerical work processing on-campus parking tickets or logging in physical evidence collected by technical investigators. It might be doing computer data entry for the department, possibly recording crime statistics or helping with taking college identification photos. Somewhat more adventurous might be assisting officers in providing late nights escort services for faculty, students, and guests going to their cars or residences.
The school also partners with local organizations and agencies, including private nonprofit groups and government agencies performing public services. Work study programs are based on financial need and you must maintain a specified level of academic performance to keep your job. At the same time, the work is designed to be related to your field of interest and academic course of study. The number of hours and days you work can vary, based on whether classes are in session or whether it is a vacation period or time between semesters. Many police departments and some sheriffs' offices accommodate work study students with jobs in areas of non-enforcement, such as picking up and delivering documents between headquarters and precincts or performing various clerical duties at headquarters.
Just the Facts
In order to participate in the Federal Work Study Program, and many other types of aid, you must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which can be done as early as your junior year in high school. The forms are available from guidance counselors and financial assistance advisors. They are also available at the U.S. Department of Education webpage: fafsa.ed.gov. This application is a basic financial assistance document that is used almost universally for many different purposes. Just accurately completing the form is a learning exercise that will serve you well in opening your eyes to the first of many applications you will be asked to complete as you move through education and begin your career path.
It is smart to complete the FAFSA form in the event that you may need some type of tuition aid as your education progresses. DOE's deadline for filing a FAFSA is only six or eight weeks prior to the start of the school year. The individual state deadlines are based on the state in which your school is located, not the state you live in. This is very important, because the state deadlines are much earlier than the federal deadline. Since the funds for assistance are limited and there are many applicants, you should not wait until the deadline to file your application. A number of deadlines must be met, including the application receipt date and, if changes are necessary, the date the form is finally submitted successfully with all necessary corrections.
Work study programs can be what you make of them. Treat the work study opportunity as a chance to earn while you learn and expand your circle of friends, acquaintances, and possible mentors. The program can provide both a high level of learning and real-world work experience, making it part of a positive period in your life. You will also be networking with teachers and supervisors who will offer you guidance and perhaps letters of reference if you choose to pursue higher education or when you are looking for permanent employment. In addition, you may be working with people in the field who know where there are vacancies and who may also provide you with letters of recommendation.
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