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Federal Work Study: What You Need to Know

The Federal Work-Study program, formerly known as the College Work-Study Program, is a program designed to help students mitigate the costs of attending college. This is a potential financial aid option for students who are looking to lower their out-of-pocket costs.


If you’re looking to learn more about work study and what it will mean for your college experience, read on.


What is Federal Work Study?


If a student qualifies for the Federal Work Study Program, they will essentially be working to pay off a portion of their college costs. The student will work a part-time job, in addition to studying, in order to help pay for college.


Oftentimes, your college will offer various on-campus work-study jobs for students in the program. These jobs are often campus maintenance tasks like shelving books at the library, working in the dining hall, etc. You can also find opportunities related to your major, like being a teaching assistant.


However, you can also get a work-study job off-campus. If that is the case, the Federal Work Study program prefers the job to be focused around civic engagement and at least tangentially related to your field of study.


The funds that you receive through your work-study job are not directly applied to your tuition. Rather, they are given out as a paycheck like a regular job. The student can then apply those funds to their college tuition and other academic expenses.


Finally, the amount of money you are allowed to earn through work study is capped at a certain level depending on your financial aid package. Based on your financial situation and your FAFSA application, you will only be allowed to work enough to earn a certain amount.


Work-Study Jobs vs. A Regular Job


With work-study, you’re paid for your job, the money doesn’t go directly to the school, and you gain some valuable work experience…so how is it any different from having a regular part-time job? Well, here are some key differences between a work-study job and a regular job that may help you make that decision:


    • A work-study job is likely to work around your school schedule, whereas a regular job may not be as flexible.
    • If you do a work-study job, you’ll have numerous job options available on campus, which provides a certain level of convenience for a busy college student.
    • With a work-study job, you can only earn up to a certain amount of money, as detailed by your financial aid package. A regular job has no such restrictions. Thus, a regular job may end up paying more.
    • Many work-study jobs are seasonal or temporary, whereas many regular jobs could allow you to work there throughout college.
    • Your school will help you find a work-study job, and they will try their best to find something related to your field of study. There are no such guarantees with a regular job.


How Do You Qualify For Federal Work Study?


In order to qualify for federal work-study, you must meet the following criteria:


  • be a US citizen/national/permanent resident
  • have filled out the FAFSA
  • Attend a university that participates in the federal work-study program; there are over 3,400 colleges in the United States that participate in the program.


After that, the federal government and your college will determine how much work-study compensation you qualify for using their own internal process.


How Do You Apply For Federal Work Study?


The process of applying to the Federal Work Study program is fairly straightforward:


    • Step 1: Fill out the FAFSA
    • Step 2: When you’re filling out the FAFSA application, make sure that you have checked the option that asks if you would like to be considered for the work study program
    • Step 3: Start applying for work-study jobs at your school, because they fill up fast


Note: It’s best to fill out the application sooner rather than later. The work-study funds are administered by the college, not the government, and they are given out on a first-come, first served basis. Thus, the earlier you apply, the more money you may be eligible for.


Deciding Whether To Do Work Study 


Taking on a part-time job as a college student is a large commitment. Here are some questions to ask yourself when you’re thinking of whether you should join the program:


    • Will you have time to work a part-time job in college?
    • What kind of jobs are you most likely to be doing at your college/university? Are you okay with that kind of job?
    • Have you tried to secure other forms of financial aid that don’t require you to work during college, like scholarships?
    • Would a work-study program hinder, in any way, your plans and goals for college? E.g. would you not be able to join as many extracurriculars, could you pursue that double major, etc.


For More Information


Need some more tips on paying for college? Check out these previous blog posts:


How To Afford College: Exploring Your Options

Helping Your Financial Aid Office Help You

The Unspoken Rules of Financial Aid Applications

3 Strategies For Students and Parents To Start Saving For College Now


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Sadhvi Mathur
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Sadhvi is a recent graduate from the University of California, Berkeley, where she double majored in Economics and Media Studies. Having applied to over 8 universities, each with different application platforms and requirements, she is eager to share her knowledge now that her application process is over. Other than writing, Sadhvi's interests include dancing, playing the piano, and trying not to burn her apartment down when she cooks!