What Is a Work-Study Job?

Definition & Examples of Work-Study Jobs

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A work-study job is one provided by the Federal Work-Study program. This government program gives part-time jobs to college students who have financial need while they're enrolled in school.

Learn more about work-study jobs, who is eligible for them, and how to get them.

What Is a Work-Study Job?

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 in work-study jobs can generally work flexible hours that don’t conflict with their class schedules. There are also limits to how many hours they can work each week so they'll have time for studying and school activities.

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), and 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 Federal Work-Study program will pay some or all of your wages if you’re hired for a work-study job.

How Work-Study Jobs Work

Unlike other jobs on campus that 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. Undergraduate and graduate students can apply for the program, as well as both full-time and part-time students.

You will need to formally apply for federal student aid to get a determination of your eligibility for a work-study job. You can use the Free Application for Federal Student Aid 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?”

Understanding how student aid is calculated can help you get an idea of how much aid you’ll be eligible to receive and whether or not work-study will be part of it. The FAFSA4caster can also help you calculate an estimate.

You’ll be notified about financial aid when you receive the award package from the school you’re attending. Once you verify that work-study is part of your financial aid package, you can apply for jobs through your school—typically through the student employment office.

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.

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 opportunities 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.

Types of Work-Study Jobs

Plenty of 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 types of work-study jobs that are available will depend on the school you're attending, but often include administrative, research, and library positions.

The work-study job you do should be relevant to what you’re studying in school.

Pay for Work-Study Jobs

The federal minimum wage is the lowest rate you can be paid for a work-study job. 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 generally 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.

Alternatives to Work-Study Jobs

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. Many companies are flexible and willing to work around a student’s class schedule, and—especially in busy college towns—employment opportunities are plentiful.

Key Takeaways

  • College students can get work-study jobs through the Federal Work-Study program as part of their financial aid package.
  • Only those determined to have the financial need are able to get work-study jobs.
  • Work-study jobs are part-time and usually pay minimum wage. They can be either on campus or off campus.
  • Students who don't qualify for work-study positions may still be able to find on-campus jobs through their school's student employment office.