The International Student Guide to Student Employment 

by Samirah Jaigirdar, MTS ’24

Editor’s Note: HDS Admissions Graduate Assistant, Samirah Jaigirdar, is an international student from Dhaka, Bangladesh. In this post, Samirah shares her experiences searching for employment opportunities in the United States, and she draws from the wisdom of other current HDS international students to provide helpful tips and tricks for applying to jobs.

As I transitioned from college to graduate school, I was concerned about the affordability of a master’s degree. Thankfully, at HDS, most of the scholarship aid for MDiv and MTS candidates is awarded based on demonstrated financial need. International students are eligible for both merit and need-based institutional aid. As we are ineligible for any federal funding, I highly recommend that all international students fill out the financial aid application that is sent after a student completes their admission application to HDS. The financial aid application is straightforward, and it only took me an hour to complete!

Let’s be honest: being an international student is hard. Before I started my education in the US in 2018, I thought the hardest things would be getting acclimatized to the weather and the new education system. However, learning how to navigate finances by myself was a difficult learning experience. During my time as an international student in America, I’ve picked up tips on how to navigate the US financial landscape (think budgeting, taxes, social security etc.) and find on-campus employment opportunities best suited to my interests.  

Throughout my time at college, I had a part-time on-campus job, and I knew I needed one at HDS as well. Having a student job is useful in many ways. First, you get to offset some of the high living costs in Cambridge/Boston. Additionally, it provides opportunities to develop skills you may not receive directly through your degree. HDS and Harvard have numerous types of employment available. There are graduate assistantships in many of the admissions, student services, or career services offices all across Harvard University. There are also research assistantships, either for a professor or a research center on campus. You can also be a teaching fellow, a museum or library assistant, or a proctor/resident tutor in undergraduate housing!

You should keep the following in mind as you start looking for on-campus employment:

  • Think about your current capacity. 
    Graduate school is demanding and exhausting! If you already know you have a demanding academic workload, maybe a relaxed library job is more suitable than a hands-on graduate assistantship with a student services office. Additionally, F1 status students are only permitted to work 20 hours/week during the academic year. So, if you have multiple jobs, ensure your total time does not exceed 20 hours per week. Thankfully, most jobs are flexible, especially during finals, so you have some leeway to figure out your best schedule.  
  • See if a job is federal work-study only. 
    This might be the most important attribute you look for in a job listing. You may have found the perfect job, but if the opportunity is limited to federal work study students only, then international students are ineligible for it. 

Tips from fellow international students:

  • Don’t hesitate to reach out and apply! Show your interest and talk to as many people/professors as you can. But academics should always be the priority so know yourself before you over-commit. – Hongmin Ahn, MTS ’24 
  • Keep searching for opportunities on Slack and the student employment database (SEO)! You will eventually stumble upon something. – Atul Bhattarai, MTS ’24 
  • Pay special attention to the emails from the Office of Student Life the summer prior to coming to HDS. There is a section on employment opportunities that are not limited to work study. – Mayank Kumar, MTS ’23 
  • Apply to jobs as soon as possible, as you need the offer letter to apply for a SSN. It can sometimes take 2 weeks to 2 months for your SSN to come so keep that in mind. Your best bet is to see which social security offices are near you and see what their appointment slots look like. – Hamza Arif, MTS ’24 

After you secure a job, you must begin the paperwork process. If you did not receive your undergraduate degree in the US, then you must work with HDS Payroll and the Harvard International Office (HIO) to set up your social security number, a local bank account, and see what your tax status is. As I already had a social security number and bank account from my college years, I did not have to deal with the HIO much. Instead, I focused on getting my I9 processed. My best advice here would be to always have digital copies of your F1 visa, I20, passport, and latest I94 available on your Google Drive/OneDrive. This can make the I9 processing much faster for your employer and HDS payroll! I believe I sent my documents to four different people/offices while my I9 was processing.  

If you were not in the US before HDS, you must keep in mind that paperwork processing can take some time. Thankfully, the HIO makes the process as painless as possible! The most important step here is to get a social security number (SSN). You must have this for tax purposes in the US. The HIO has a detailed guide on how you can apply for one. After you get your SSN, the rest of the paperwork goes fast as you primarily deal with HDS Payroll!  

Currently, I have two positions – I am a Graduate Assistant for HDS Admissions for which I work 10 hours a week and a Research Associate for the Harvard Pluralism Project where I work 1-2 hours a week. Alongside supplementing my living costs, these positions help me develop soft and hard skills that I would not learn directly through my classes. 

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