While the federal work-study program is smaller than many other financial aid programs, it can benefit students in a number of ways. If you have received federal aid information that incorporates a work-study program into the package, you probably have a lot of questions. In this article, we will talk about the program and how it works. This way, you can be prepared ahead of time for what lies ahead.

What Is the Work-Study Program?

Work-study is a partially federally subsidized program. Unlike grants or student loans, it provides part-time jobs to students who have demonstrated financial need on the FAFSA. Available to both part and full-time students, work-study is available in undergraduate and graduate schools.

Currently, over 3400 colleges participate in the program. The advantage to the school or employer is that they only need to fund half of a student’s wages, and the government foots the bill for the rest. This means that eligible students are sought after more than employees who would be paid for a similar position.

The jobs are most often offered right on the campus where a student is enrolled, but occasionally, other local and state agencies or organizations offer work-study positions. The program is designed to help students earn some money that will not impact the rest of their eligibility for federal aid.

What Kinds of Jobs Can I Get Through Work-Study?

On the campus, work-study jobs are highly varied. There may be positions available in cleaning and maintenance of student housing, working in the dining hall, cashiering at the campus bookstore, and many others. Ideally, you will be able to find a job somehow related to your major, but this isn’t always the case. For work-study jobs on campus, one main advantage is that you are already there, so there is no commute time, making it convenient and relatively easy to get to your job.

Most off-campus jobs focus more on civic engagement, such as tutoring at a literacy program or conducting research for a non-profit. For employers off-campus, the position itself must be in the public interest, so you will be performing a task that is somehow beneficial to the community or country. Most often, this will mean working in a government office or institution, ideally within your field of study.

Will I Be Guaranteed a Job?

No. Just because you are eligible for the program does not guarantee you a position. If you do receive a work-study award, you will generally need to proceed as you would any other job. That is, you will need to apply and be ready to go for an interview.

It’s important to note that jobs are usually quite limited, and they fill up fast. As soon as you get a work-study award, you should seek a position as quickly as possible.

What Can I Earn Through Work-Study?

Pay for work-study jobs will always be at least the federal minimum wage. However, depending upon the position, you may earn more. Jobs requiring more specialized skills typically offer a higher wage than general labor.

You should also be aware that when you participate in a work-study program, your work hours are capped at the amount of money that has been allotted by the award. There are no opportunities to pick up extra hours or work overtime.

How Will I Get Paid?

Most undergraduate students will be paid by the hour. Some graduate students will receive a salary. Federal regulations require that your pay be dispersed at least once per month, although many students get paid weekly or every two weeks. You will receive a paycheck or direct deposit into your bank account. You can typically request that your earnings be deducted from your tuition or room and board, but you are not required to do so.

How Can I Use the Money?

Work-study earnings are not automatically applied to your college expenses. You are free to use them however you wish.

Why Should I Take a Work-Study Position Instead of a Regular Job?

There are some pros and cons to the work-study program to be aware of, and each student will find their needs are different. For those who need a little extra cash, the program may be ideal. In addition to the convenience of being able to earn some pocket change right on campus, the funds will not count against you when it comes to your eligibility for financial aid in the future.

For students with more ambitious budgeting plans, a work-study program may not afford enough income to meet their goals. If you are trying to graduate debt-free, for example, you might be better served with a part-time job that pays more and provides more hours. However, it is essential to note that if you make too much money, it can impact your eligibility in the following years to receive financial aid.

It all comes down to each student’s financial needs and goals. Careful planning and decision making is in order so as not to create a financial hardship down the road.

Can I Lose My Eligibility?

All federal student aid programs require that students continue to meet individual eligibility requirements. The work-study program is no different. Each student must maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) if they want to continue receiving aid. The SAP guidelines vary from school to school, and the academic requirements are different at each institution. You should always check to make sure you are maintaining your GPA if you want to stay eligible for any FAFSA program.

Final Thoughts

Participating in a work-study program can allow students to help offset some of the expenses they incur during the school year. Typically, employers are more lenient and will understand that students may have different scheduling needs during finals week or other projects.

If you are lucky enough to find a position that relates to your field of study, the program can be incredibly beneficial in helping you gain real-world experience and make meaningful connections.


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