What Are Work-Study Jobs?

The federal work-study program provides part-time jobs for college students who have demonstrated financial need. Qualifying students often apply for jobs that are either directly related to their field of study or benefit the college community in some capacity.

What Is Work Study?

The federal work-study program is one of the ways the FSA provides financial aid to students. Eligible students can apply for a part-time job through their school.

The work-study program effectively allows students to work off some of their educational expenses while attending college. Work-study is often preferred to loans since it doesn’t require the student to go into debt – or rack up interest – to pay for college.

How Do I Sign up for a Federal Work Study Program?

When you complete your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®), check the box that indicates you’re interested in work-study. You’re not committing to anything at this point, just indicating you would consider a work-study opportunity.

Your school will notify you of your eligibility in your financial aid award letter, where they will allocate financial aid funds to you should you decide to take on a work-study job. If you get your award letter and decide you can’t juggle the job on top of your course load, you can decline that part of your package. However, if you can handle the workload, most students find the experience a positive and beneficial one.

Applying For A Work-Study Job

Once accepted into the program, you will need to apply for a work-study job. If you do not follow through on this second step, you will not receive the money your school allocated for you.

Most schools will have an online job listing page on their student web portals. If you are unsure where to find your school’s work-study job postings, contact your school’s financial aid office.

What Kind of Work Will I Do?

You will have some say in what kind of work-study job you receive since you’ll have to directly apply for specific positions. If you’re working on campus, you’ll be doing tasks for the school. This could be anything from clerical work to tutoring other students to working the cash register in the bookstore.

If you’re working off-campus, your employer will probably be a nonprofit, civic, or government organization. All work done by work-study students must be in the public interest, meaning it must benefit the community or the nation as opposed to serving a particular special interest. To the extent possible, the jobs could also relate to your field of study.

What Does a Work Study Job Pay?

Federal work-study alone won’t be enough to pay for college, and it’s not intended for that purpose. In 2015, the average student earned a little more than $2,500 each year — but it can help substantially with the extra expenses. While you’ll always be paid at least the federal minimum wage, the rate of pay for a work-study job varies based on several factors:

  • Whether you’re an undergraduate or graduate student. Undergraduate students are paid by the hour, while graduate students can be paid either hourly or salaried, depending on what type of work is being done.
  • When you applied. Early applicants have the best shot at being accepted and getting the most sought-after positions.
  • Your level of financial need.
  • How much funding your school has available for work study jobs.

How Do I Get Paid?

You will get paid at least once a month, but it may be more often. The money comes to you directly unless you specifically ask for another arrangement. For example, you can ask the school to send it to your bank account electronically, or you can have the funds sent directly to your student account to apply to your tuition and other expenses. Most students take the cash and use it for day-to-day living expenses, like food, gas, rent if you’re living off-campus, and more.

Keep in mind, though, that the cash is not the only benefit to participating in a federal work-study. The experience you gain looks great on your resume, and the contacts you make are priceless. It’s a good way to test out your chosen career field and be sure it’s a good fit for you. For example, if you’re an education major, your federal work-study job may involve working in public schools, tutoring, or helping in other ways. If you find you don’t like working with children, it’s probably time to re-evaluate your major.

How Many Hours Can I Work?

The amount you can earn is set out in your financial aid letter. Your school assigns your hours based on that amount, as you cannot earn more than your budgeted dollars — unless the school itself supplements the program with its own funds to allow you to work more. They also take into account your class schedule and how you’re doing in your coursework. You can expect between 10 and 20 hours per week in most federal work-study jobs.

Work Study Job vs. Traditional Part-Time Job

One nice thing about a work-study job is that it doesn’t count toward the income you have to report on your FAFSA® the next year. That means it won’t negatively affect your ability to qualify for federal aid. For that reason, a federal work-study job may be better than a traditional part-time job.

However, you can probably work more hours at a traditional part-time job, and the pay will likely be higher. Since you have to pay taxes on the income, it does count toward the income you put on your FAFSA® and may impact your eligibility. That’s true whether the money is earned during the school year or during the summer.

Work-study is a valuable tool financially and in terms of job experience, so if you can swing it, this is a way to build your resume and your bank account at the same time. Apply early, consider the workload carefully, and look for a job that’s related to your career field for the most positive experience.