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What Is Federal Work Study? How Does It Work?

money-2180330_640You’ve been accepted into your dream college! Congratulations! Now comes an entirely new challenge: figuring out how to pay for your education.

College is expensive and becoming more so every year. If you don’t have a small fortune to fall back on (and most students don’t), you’ll need to put together a financial aid package that covers your tuition, room & board, and other expenses.

One common financial aid program is work study. In this article, we’ll answer the question “What is work study?” and discuss who qualifies for it, how much money you can earn, and whether or not you should take a work study job.


What Is Work Study?

The Federal Work Study Program is a federally-funded program in the US that helps students pay for college.

Through work study, part and full time students enrolled in US colleges and universities can get part-time jobs to earn money.

So, what is work study?

Here’s the 411:

  • Federal work study provides part-time employment while you’re studying.
  • It’s available to undergraduate, graduate, and professional students with financial need.
  • It’s available to full-time or part-time students.
  • The program emphasizes providing jobs that relate to civic engagement (so, helping your community) or your course of study.
  • There are both on and off campus work study jobs.
  • If you work on campus, you’ll likely work for your school (think, manning the library help desk).
  • If you work off campus, you’ll be working with a non-profit organization or public agency (remember, the jobs are often related to civic engagement).
  • Some schools have partnerships with private, for-profit companies, but you can only snag one of these jobs if there’s a demonstrated link to your major or degree.


Am I Eligible for Federal Work Study?

Not everyone is eligible for work study. To see if you qualify, you first need to fill out a FAFSA Form (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).

On your FAFSA form, you’ll give information about you and your family’s income, assets, and demographics (like household size, home location, and more).

The FAFSA’s used to calculate something called expected family contribution, or EFC. Your expected family contribution is what your family is anticipated to provide towards your college expenses.

If your family’s EFC is lower than the cost of attending college, you may receive a financial aid package from your college or university. However, it’s not guaranteed how much aid you’ll get or even if you’ll get it. Some colleges and universities award aid on a first-come, first-served basis, so it’s important to get your FAFSA in early. There’s also no official cutoff for receiving aid, so it doesn’t hurt to send in a FAFSA even if you think you won’t qualify for a package.

If you do receive a financial aid package, you may see work study as part of your deal.

In short, here are the three things you need to do to qualify for work study:

  1. Fill out a FAFSA application.
  2. Attend a college or university that participates in the Federal Work Study program.
  3. Demonstrate financial need.


academic-1822683_640-1If you qualify for work study, you may end up with a job in the library or other on campus institution.


How Does Federal Work Study Work?

If you’re awarded a federal work study job, you may be wondering “How does federal work study work?” Here’s what you need to know:


#1: You Can Work On or Off Campus

Most schools have both on and off campus jobs available to work study students. Which job you’ll get depends on the availabilities at your school and your course of study.

If you work on campus, you’ll be helping your school in some way. You may work at the library or as a laboratory assistant.

If you work off campus, you’ll likely work with a non-profit organization or public agency. You may be able to work at a private, for profit company, but only if you can demonstrate that the job has a link to your major.


#2: You'll Make at Least Minimum Wage

Wondering how much money you’ll make with work study?

The good news is you’ll make at least minimum wage. The even better news is that you may make more than that - it all depends on your position and your school.

Your package will detail how much money you can earn from work study. That doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to receive that money - you’ll need to do your job to earn it. If your work study award is $2,600, for instance, you’ll be able to work until you’ve earned $2,600. This is helpful for budgeting, because you’ll know how much money to expect, but doesn’t allow you the freedom to earn more money if you need it.


#3: Your Money Will Be Deposited in Your Account

The money you make from your work study job goes straight to you, not your school. You can use your money for anything you want, like food or supplies. You get to control what you do with the money - it’s not sent directly to your college to pay for tuition or anything else.


#4: You’re Not Guaranteed the Same Job Year After Year

You’re not guaranteed the same work study job year after year. You’re not even guaranteed to get a work study job every year. You’ll need to reapply with a FAFSA form every single year in order to renew your work study.


Should I Get a Work Study Job?

Work study jobs are a great way to earn extra money to pay for room, board, food, and other supplies that’ll help you get through college. However, it’s important to remember that a work study job is just that - a job.

You’ll need to show up on time to your shifts and perform different tasks. A work study job will cut down on your availability to study and focus on your schoolwork. Do you have enough time for that? Will you be able to do your work study without letting your grades suffer?

Getting a work study job isn’t like getting free money - you need to earn it. When deciding whether or not to take your work study job, consider what your availability and workload are like. If you have a tough semester coming up, you might not want to put any other pressure on yourself.


library-1400313_640If you pursue a job off-campus, your employer might not be as understanding of your need to study.


Work Study Jobs vs Regular Jobs

If you need to work during college, you may be wondering, “Should I try for a work study job or a non-work study job?”

There are pros and cons for each.

Work study jobs are offered through your college or university. Work study employers are more likely to be respectful of your school schedule. Likewise, you may be able to more easily get a job related to your field of study, which will help bolster your application to other jobs after you graduate.

Unfortunately, work study jobs are limited - you won’t be able to earn more than the money allotted in your package. If you aren’t making enough to cover your expenses, you may still need to supplement your income in other ways.

Non-work study jobs offer endless ranges for income. You may be able to earn significantly more money in a non-work study job.

However, you’ll have to apply for these jobs yourself, without the assistance of your school. Your boss might not be as understanding of your course load and the work may not be related to what you want to do.

Ultimately, you need to take a hard look at the options presented to you in your work study offer and see if you’re able to make the money work for your needs.


What’s Next?

Application fees are the first hurdle you'll have to overcome when paying for college. Take a look at this list of colleges that don't charge any application fees to see whether you might be able to save some money in the application process.

Are you worried about standardized tests and their role in your college application? Read this article to find out when these tests might not matter for you. Also take a look at this list of colleges that don't require SAT scores.



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Hayley Milliman
About the Author

Hayley Milliman is a former teacher turned writer who blogs about education, history, and technology. When she was a teacher, Hayley's students regularly scored in the 99th percentile thanks to her passion for making topics digestible and accessible. In addition to her work for PrepScholar, Hayley is the author of Museum Hack's Guide to History's Fiercest Females.

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