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How to Earn as a Student in USA

by Chetna Vasishth

In this article you will get a comprehensive understanding of ‘How to earn money as a student while studying in USA. I have covered two major aspects in this article which are the provisions under the visa that allow you to work and the types of jobs available and approx. income. These have been classified under two main heads – on campus and off campus jobs

1. On Campus Employment

If you are an international student you will most likely get an F-1 Visa, which is the non-immigrant student visa. Under this visa you can take up On Campus Employment for up to

  1. 20 hours per week (part time) while school is in session and
  2. 40 hours a week (full time) during holidays and vacation periods if you intend to register for the next academic semester.

You can work on the school’s premises or in branch offices directly for your school or for on-location commercial firms which provide services for students on campus, such as the school bookstore or cafeteria.

Let’s look at the various options available for on campus work and the income possibility

  1. Assistantship – there are four main types of assistantship available
  2. Teaching Assistant (TA) – A TA usually does the grading of homework, projects, and quizzes. An Undergraduate TA can be quite a bit of work since you are supposed to help the students in class for any questions regarding homework and projects etc. You should have taken that course and got an A on it to qualify usually
  3. Research Assistant (RA) or Graduate Research Assistant (GRA) – RA’s are common in research-oriented Universities. The professors usually get grants to do research and professor seeks students to help them with the research. The job typically consists of experiments, simulations, programming, writing research papers, setup labs, etc. It is mostly awarded to students who take Thesis option in their master’s program. Professors usually look for your skills and research experience when they offer you a position.  It can be very hectic job which you should take up if you love research.
  4. Graduate Assistant – GA is like RA, but the duties are a bit different. GA’s are typically involved with tasks that are part of the graduate school or department, typically tasks like maintaining the Department Websites, Web Servers, UNIX and other Servers. They work with network setups, accounts creation, deletion, etc. The duties vary based on department.
  5. Resident Assistant (also called RA) – lives in the dorm or Residence hall and the role is to create a sense of community, ensure that everyone obeys the college or university’s rule and provide general support for students!


  1. Internships – on campus / off campus – can earn $6-$12. On campus internships may include library assistant, magazine editor, event volunteer, tech jobs like website maintenance, tour guide for campus visitors, peer tutor, barista, book store assistant, etc.
  2. Scholarship / Fellowships – Scholarships are usually given during undergrad, these are need based and Fellowships are given during grad school and are usually merit based. We will talk about this in a future video
  3. Co-Op Programs – Some colleges build in a one-year work between the four-year program which allows you to earn and work covered under the CPT usually. Here once again you want to be careful that you do not work for more than 12 months on full time CPT otherwise it will take away your OPT.
  4. Informal work – like baby sitting or pet sitting for your professor, free-lance work online like writing, photography or paid projects

How much can you earn?

In part time jobs 20 hrs a week, you can make about $200 a week as an undergrad at about $10- 12/hr and about $400 a week as a grad student. But please bear in mind that 20-hour work weeks are very difficult to sustain given the intense workload

In Assistantship you can get a monthly pay or instate tuition waiver and health insurance

A TA can get paid anywhere from $550 to $1200 per month depending on the University.

An RA / GRA or a GA’s stipend varies based on the grant anywhere between $500 to $1500.

A Resident Assistant may get either full living and food waiver or one meal and living waiver

Off Campus Employment

The F-1 visa offers you four routes under which you can take off campus employment

  1. OPT – Optional Practical Training – where students can work off campus for
  2. 20 hours a week before completing your degree
  3. 40 hours a week during vacations before completing their degree and
  4. They must work full time after completing their degree (40 hours a week).

Work must be in a field directly related to the major. This means that working in mc Donald’s, subway, gas stations, motels with an F1 visa is illegal.

Part-time OPT (while still in school) reduces available full-time OPT by half of the amount of part-time work (for instance, if you work part time for 6 months, you can work full-time for up to 9 months).

The total OPT available is up to 12 months total. All OPT must be completed with 14 months of completing your degree, unless your program is a STEM program in which case you have a 17 months extension, during or after the program. So total 29 months. This extension was instituted to give students time to apply for an H1B visa.

2. CPT – Curriculum Practical Training

This is an off-campus employment with an agreement between the college and the employer since it is part of course work and you get credits for it.             CPT is only available before completion of your degree provided you are enrolled for a full-time program. The number of hours of work outside campus for 20 hours a week except during vacations.

You can avail of these after 9 months of being in the program or in the 2nd year. For graduate students this could begin immediately. There is no limit to how many months or years you can work for as long as you are enrolled in a full-time program. But if you work full-time on CPT for 12 months or more, you are not eligible for OPT.

So use your OPT judiciously and maximise the time available to you after you graduate. Every time you do an internship off campus for 2 months, it gets knocked off from the OPT. So, my suggestion for you is to come back to your home country at the end of the freshman year for an internship. Try for a CPT based research internship if possible at the end of your sophomore summer and use the OPT to get an internship in the US after your junior year. This will increase the chances that the same company might give you a job offer which you can take up using the balance portion of the OPT. Meantime the company will apply for an H1B visa for you.

  1. Severe Economic hardship – There are some provisions for proven severe economic hardship which allow you to work over and above the limits e.g. loss of financial aid with no fault of the student, substantial fluctuations in the value of currency or exchange rate, inordinate increases in tuition and/or living costs, unexpected changes in the financial condition of the student’s source of support, medical bills or other substantial and unexpected expenses.
  2. Employment with an International Organization – The final category of employment for international students in the U.S. on F-1 visas is employment with a “recognized international organization.” To qualify, an organization must be on the official State Department list, and listed organizations include the Red Cross, African and Asian Development Banks, the World Health Organization, the World Trade Organization, and many other similar but less well-known organizations. Because it does not have the universal application of OPT or CPT, this category of employment is often overlooked. Only students with a job offer and sponsorship from one of the listed organizations are eligible. This neither has a time limit imposed nor does it interfere with the OPT and CPT allowances.

How much can you earn – If you manage to get a good internship you can make between $3,000 to 10,000 per month. A tax gets deducted which you can claim while filing a return. The recent glassdoor survey says that the top 25 internships are typically tech or finance companies. With some tech companies like Facebook, perks include free food, housing and even dry-cleaning

My recommendation – remember that the main objective of going to a good college is to focus on the education and to learn from all the experiences of working in team projects and in classroom. So always keep these jobs as a supplemental source of revenue. Never go to college without adequate funds thinking that you will work in the library and subsidise your living costs. You must however, take up summer internships or research assignments every possible summer. And keep the small jobs that are not enriching or directly contributing to either your area of interest or a strong passion to a manageable level.

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