What Is Work-Study (and How Can You Get a Work-Study Job)?

College students working in library
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Paying for college is a challenge for many students. It’s expensive and—in addition to room, board, and tuition—you will need to buy books and supplies, a computer and perhaps a printer, purchase a meal plan or buy groceries, pay school fees, and cover transportation costs to and from campus. Vocational and certificate programs can be pricey as well, especially when you’re juggling bills and your studies.

When you’re looking to earn extra money to help with your expenses, there are many types of jobs to consider. The Federal Work-Study (FWS) program provides a way for students with financial need to get a paycheck to help with their expenses, and gain valuable work experience. The types of schools that participate in the federal student aid program include:

  • Four-year Colleges and Universities
  • Two-year Colleges (Community and Junior Colleges)
  • Career Schools (Technical and Vocational schools)

Check with the financial aid office to find out whether your university or career school participates. If they do, the FWS program will pay some or all of your wages if you’re hired for a work-study job.

What is Work-Study?

The Federal Work-Study program, along with loans, grants, and scholarships, is a component of federal financial aid provided by the U.S. Department of Education. Work-study provides part-time jobs for both undergraduate and graduate students with demonstrated need, allowing them to earn money to help pay education-related expenses. Students can work flexible hours that don’t conflict with their class schedules, and there are limits to how many hours you can work each week so you will have time for studying and school activities.

Who is Eligible for Work-Study Jobs?

Eligibility for work-study jobs is based on financial need, and undergraduate and graduate students can participate in the program. Both full-time and part-time students can apply. The FAFSA4caster will give you an estimate of the federal student aid you may be eligible to receive.

It is only an estimate, and you will need to formally apply for federal student aid to get a determination of your eligibility. You’ll be notified about financial aid when you receive the award package from the school you’re attending. An overview of how student aid is calculated can help you get an idea of how the federal government and institutions determine how much aid you’re eligible to receive.

Applying for the Federal Work-Study Program

Unlike other jobs on campus which aren’t work-study positions, you’ll be applying for the program through the federal government rather than directly at your college or career school. Because work-study is part of the student aid program, you can’t apply for it separately. It’s part of the federal application process for financial aid, and it’s based on need.

When you’re ready to apply—and you’ll need quite a bit of information to submit your application—you can use the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) form to apply for federal aid for college, career school, or graduate school. When you fill out the form, select “yes” when you respond to the question “Do you want to be considered for work-study?”

Once you have been notified that work-study is part of your financial aid package you can apply for jobs through your school, typically through the student employment office.

Types of Jobs Available

Campus work-study jobs are available, and there are some off-campus positions as well. If it’s an off-campus job, the work must be in the public interest (typically at a non-profit organization or a public agency). The job should be relevant to what you’re studying. The types of jobs that are available will depend on the school you are attending, but include administrative, research, and library positions; tutoring; child care; and a variety of other jobs.Keep in mind that this program doesn’t necessarily guarantee a job for you.

Rather, it helps provide funding for your employment if you were to be hired.

At most participating institutions, you need to apply, interview, and get an offer just like you would with any other job. That’s why it’s important to apply as early in the semester as possible to have the most options to consider.

Finding a Work-Study Job

How you will find and apply for jobs depends on the school you’re attending. Jobs may be listed on the general jobs website, with work-study positions designated as such, or could be listed on the student employment or career services website. Campus departments and offices may list openings on their website, and you can always stop in and ask about available positions. If you’re not sure, check with the financial aid office for information on where to find job listings and how to apply.

Average Pay Rates for Work-Study Positions

The federal minimum wage, currently $7.25 per hour, is the lowest rate you can be paid. If your state has a higher minimum wage, you’ll be paid that rate. You may be able to earn more, depending on your skills and job qualifications. Undergraduate students are paid hourly, while professional and graduate students may be paid hourly or receive a salary depending on the job. The number of hours you can work is limited to a set amount per school year, and you can’t exceed the amount listed in your Federal Work-Study award.

Other Work Options

If you’re not eligible or can’t line up a work-study position, there are other options available. Not all jobs on campus are work-study positions. You may be able to line-up a part-time job on campus through your school’s student employment office or get hired directly by a department. Check for details on what’s available with your college’s student employment office or directly with departments where you would like to work.

Also consider an off-campus part-time position or an online job that can be worked from anywhere, including your dorm room. Many companies are flexible and willing to work around a student’s class schedule, and—especially in busy college towns—employment opportunities are plentiful.