Financial Aid

Work-Study: Everything You Need to Know

Learn what Work-Study means, why it can help you minimize student debt, and how to qualify for this federal financial aid opportunity.

Shawna Newman

June 08, 2023

Work-Study: Everything You Need to Know
20% of students use work-study to pay for college.
Hooray, you’ve completed and sent off your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). If you’re a current college student, you’re reviewing the financial aid award letter from your university. If you’re a high school senior or parent/guardian of a senior in high school, you’re likely reviewing several financial aid award packages before you or your student makes their final college decision. The financial aid award package reveals the types of financial aid you can use to pay for college: merit scholarships, institutional grants, federal student loans, private student loans, and federal work-study are some of your options. You may understand how scholarships, grants and student loans work, but what’s work-study?!

What is Work-study?

Federal work-study is a part-time job program that college (both undergrad and graduate) and professional students can use to help them pay for school and educational expenses. Work-study can be federally funded and sometimes state-funded. Twenty percent of families used work-study to pay for college in 2022, according to Sallie Mae’s annual report.

Examples of Work-Study

Work-study jobs can be on campus or off campus. You’re encouraged to find a work-study gig that relates to your course of study. Many students work for their schools. On-campus jobs can be in offices, dorms, cafeterias, and libraries. Types of jobs include administrative support, research assistance, tutoring, childcare, and more. Many off-campus work-study jobs are for private nonprofit organizations or community service related.

The Pros and Cons of Work-Study

As you’re learning and evaluating the option of work-study, take the below pros and cons into consideration:

Benefits of Work-Study

The benefits of work-study outweigh the negatives: Flexibility: Your focus should be your studies, so there’s a lot of room to adjust your work schedule to fit your class schedule. Choice: You can choose how to apply the earnings of your work-study job. For example, you can apply your money toward daily expenses related to student life, rather than tuition and fees. You don’t have to apply your full work-study paycheck to only tuition! Earnings Don’t Apply to FAFSA: What you’ve earned does not count against you when you complete the next year’s FAFSA. Be sure you include the amount you earned through work-study during the tax year used on your FAFSA. This amount will be factored out of your EFC. Experience: Practice your job interview skills and gain work experience. Most schools require students to search for a job, apply and interview for work-study positions. Colleges usually post work-study jobs on an internal job search database. Once you secure your work-study job, you’ll gain real-world work experience to include in your portfolio and/or resume!

Drawbacks of Work-Study

Just as there are work-study perks, there are a few important drawbacks you should know about: No Guarantee: Even if you accept the work-study funds offered by your college (this comes from your Financial aid award letter), there’s no promise you’ll find an approved work-study job, or earn the amount offered on your award letter. According to the U.S. Department of Education, you may not qualify for work-study from year to year. Factors include financial need, how much work-study funds you’ve been offered and used, and the amount of work-study funds your school received. The number of work-week hours may vary from job to job. Most work-study jobs are part-time employment opportunities; only requiring 10 to 20 work hours each week. The amount you earn cannot exceed your total federal work-study award for the year. Limited: Work-study jobs are in high demand, so you’ll have to put in the work to find a job as early as possible. Your financial aid office or campus career center can guide you on when and how to begin your search. If your school’s work-study positions are filled for the year, you may be able to find other work on campus in the interim. If you run into this situation, reach out to the college career center to get other options.

How Much Does Work-Study Pay?

Work-study jobs must pay the federal minimum wage rate, at least. The current federal minimum wage rate is $7.25 per hour. If your state’s minimum wage rate differs from the federal rate, you’ll earn the higher rate. A 2022 Sallie Mae report shares that students earned an average of $1,531 in federal work-study pay. Undergraduate students are paid by the hour. Graduate students and professional students may be paid by salary—this depends on the type of work-study job. Schools are required to pay work-study students directly, at least once a month. Payment is like other jobs in that you will receive a check or have payments sent directly to your bank account. Students are expected to use their work-study earnings to pay for education-related expenses, such as tuition, fees, food, housing and transportation.

Work-Study Eligibility

Full-time or part-time students with financial need qualify for the federal work-study program. To qualify, students must complete their FAFSA yearly and select that they’re interested in work-study on the FAFSA application. If granted work-study, you do not have to accept it. But remember, work-study is a way to minimize future student debt! It’s also important to tap into other funding resources to help pay for college—especially those that do not have to be paid back. These options include the Pell Grant (the FAFSA is required for this, too), student employment (work-study and non-work-study jobs), and scholarships! Create your free Fastweb profile to get matched to scholarships that fit you. This saves you time and the hassle of combing through scholarships that won’t work for you. A Fastweb account also ensures you don’t miss out on scholarships you should be applying for too!

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Shawna Newman

Managing Editor, Contributing Writer

Shawna Newman is the Managing Editor and a writer at Fastweb. She has over 10 years of experience in higher education. Her direct work with college admissions teams, financial aid officers, college deans, ...

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