Niche College Scholarship
Updated: November 18, 2015

Federal Work Study

For most college students, scholarships and grants just aren't enough to cover the full cost of tuition. And for those who don't want to graduate with a massive student loan debt burden, it makes sense to get a part-time job during the school year.

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For students looking to work in college, the Federal Work-Study Program is a good option. Your eligibility for Federal Work-Study is determined by the results of your Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. You will only be matched with a job if you have high enough financial need. About 3,400 schools nationwide offer the program and the schools’ administrators determine how work-study funds are distributed. Browse through our site to see more tips on funding your education through work-study and outside of work-study.

What is Federal Work-Study

The Federal Work-Study Program provides jobs for undergraduate and graduate students with financial need, allowing them to earn extra money to help pay for college expenses. Work-study jobs are often connected to a student’s interests or major, and if you work on-campus, the job will be connected to your college. Off-campus employers are usually private nonprofit organizations or a public agencies. It is up to schools to request funding from the federal government and distribute that funding to in the work-study program.

How much will I make?

You’ll earn at least the current federal minimum wage. Wages depend on the type of work and the skills required. Your total Federal Work-Study award depends on when you apply, your level of need, and the funding level of your school. Commissions or fees are not paid to Federal Work-Study students.

How will I be paid?

If you’re an undergraduate, you are paid by the hour. If you’re a graduate student, you might be paid by the hour or you might receive a salary. Your school must pay you at least once a month. Also, your school must pay you directly, unless you requested otherwise. For example, you can request to make payments to your bank account or use the money to pay for your institutional charges such as tuition, fees, and room and board.

Are Federal Work-Study jobs on-campus or off-campus?

Both. If you work on campus, you work for your school. If you work off campus, your employer will be a private nonprofit organization or a public agency. Some schools have agreements with private for-profit employers for work-study jobs if they are relevant to your course of study. If you attend a proprietary school, look out for more restrictions on work-study jobs.

How to get work-study

Work study is only given to students with demonstrated financial need. To qualify, you must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the same form you use to apply for federal student loans and grants. Unlike other types of aid, work-study jobs are limited. The best way to maximize your chances is to complete and submit the FAFSA as soon as possible. If you will be attending college in fall 2023, you should fill the FAFSA out now. The longer you wait, the less likely you’ll be to land a work-study job. You will have to submit the FAFSA every year that you want to receive work-study or any other type of federal financial aid.

Can I work as many hours as I want?

No. The amount you earn cannot exceed your total Federal Work-Study award. When assigning work hours, your employer or financial aid administrator considers your class schedule and academic progress. Most schools limit the number of hours you can work in their work-study program.

Benefits of work-study

If you already have a job, you might be wondering if a work-study position is more desirable. Some work-study jobs are less hectic and let you spend the downtime studying or reading for class. If you have a packed schedule, work-study could let you earn money while staying on top of your assignments. Work-study jobs may also be more flexible and accommodating to your schedule. For example, they could let you work less during midterms or finals week.

Because many work-study positions are on campus, you don’t have to worry about transportation. That’s a huge benefit with today’s high gas prices. In fact, you may be able to walk to work instead of driving or taking the bus. Having a work-study job on your resume may also be more impressive to potential employers than other jobs, like working in retail. Your work-study supervisor can even help you land a full-time job after graduation. Some students are able to find work-study jobs helping professors with research in their chosen field.

Some students may not have FICA taxes withheld from a work-study job. This means students can keep more of their work-study paycheck for themselves. This rule only applies if you are working less than 20 hours a week and are a full-time student. If you drop below full-time status, you may have to pay FICA taxes out of your work-study paycheck.

Downsides to work-study

Students are limited in how many hours they can work, and there is no guarantee. For example, you may only work 10 hours a week instead of the 20 stated on your award letter. If you make a budget based on the maximum amount of hours, you could wind up short if you’re scheduled for less. Work-study jobs may also pay less than other opportunities. If you can earn more by bartending or waiting tables, then you may be better off sticking with that instead of doing work-study. You can also try to get another job on top of work-study, but try to leave enough room in your schedule for school and social activities.