A man talks to his manager at a retail job.

Turn Summer Jobs Into College Scholarship Opportunities

Students should look to restaurant and retail jobs as possible sources of extra income and free college cash.

A man talks to his manager at a retail job.

Always ask if your summer job offers part-time employees access to college scholarships or tuition assistance or reimbursement programs.

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Summer is approaching, and that means millions of students will soon be looking to earn some extra money through a summer job. These jobs can be a terrific way to get real-world work experience and cash for college. And if your employer also offers scholarships or tuition assistance, they can also pay off with more than just a paycheck. 

Here are five things college students should know that can help turn a summer job into financial aid.

1. Fast food and retail jobs are generous scholarship providers. 

With national presence and huge student workforces, large retail stores and fast-food restaurants have become some of the largest providers of employee scholarships. If you’re planning to flip burgers or stock shelves this summer, you have plenty of scholarship options: Burger King, McDonald’s, Chick-fil-A, Walmart and the Yum! Brands restaurants – Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut – are among the dozens of major food and retail businesses that offer scholarship applications for team members.

Fast-food scholarships aren’t limited to national chains, either. If you’re a student or recent graduate in the Seattle area, you may want to make one of the region’s six Dick’s Drive-In locations your first stop on your summer job search. The local burger joint famously offers four-year scholarships totaling $22,000​​ ​​​to eligible student employees. High school grads from the class of 2014 have until June 30 to apply for work, and will become eligible for awards after two months.

[Find out how to land an internship after freshman year of college.]

2. Tuition assistance and tuition reimbursement are free college money, too.

In the past, The Scholarship Coach has covered a few options for finding college money through your summer job, and some of the most lucrative programs involve tuition assistance or tuition reimbursement. These options might not be as familiar as scholarships, but they’re actually an even simpler way to find funding. 

Unlike scholarships, which may require a competitive application, tuition assistance programs agree to reimburse all or part of your qualified tuition expenses. One of the best-known programs is the UPS Earn and Learn program, which provides part-time management UPS employees up to $4,000 per year with a lifetime maximum of $20,000​. If you’re in the South, you can earn up to $3,200 per year in employee tuition reimbursement from Publix grocery stores, while working just 10 hours per week.

3. Staying on campus can pay off, no matter where you work. 

If you’re a current college student, some of your best job options may be right outside your dorm. Work-study positions are often a part of your total financial aid package and many of these jobs also offer the opportunity to apply for additional scholarships.

[Get tips on where to find college scholarships on-campus.]

The list of possibilities is almost endless and includes library employees at Appalachian State  ​or the University of Washington; student union staff at the University of Michigan; cooks and bookstore clerks at the College of Brockport—SUNY; and recreational and sports staff at Ohio State

In short, if you’re in college and looking for summer work, your campus employment office should be your first stop.

4. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. 

While campus positions, fast food and retail are the most common jobs for students, they’re not for everyone. But just because these jobs aren't a fit for you doesn’t mean you’re out of luck when it comes to scholarships.

If your work involves caring for a family member, the Caregivers Support Network provides a number of scholarships that honor this difficult task. If you work in professional, health care or property services, find out if you’re represented by one of the major service unions. Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees both provide a number of member scholarships.

[Apply to one of these 10 unique scholarship opportunities for 2014.]

And if you’re a student entrepreneur who’s running or planning your own small business while in college, the GreenPal Business Scholarship rewards students who work as their own boss.

5. You should always ask about scholarships before you start a job. 

We’ve covered plenty of options above for turning your summer employment into a college scholarship, but these only scratch the surface. Plenty of companies – especially smaller local and regional employers – don’t advertise their employee scholarships publicly. 

As you’re out there looking for part-time hours this summer, don’t forget to ask about scholarships, tuition reimbursement and any other programs that might provide college assistance beyond your paycheck.