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Work study can be an effective way to help pay for your higher education without taking out more student loans. The types of work-study positions available and how the program is handled will depend on your school.
In this article, we’ll go into what federal work study is, who qualifies for it, and why you might consider work study while you’re in college:
- What is federal work study in college?
- Work study vs. a regular job
- Work study benefits and drawbacks
- Common work-study jobs
What is federal work study in college?
Federal work study is a form of financial aid for college students. You take on a part-time job at your school or local nonprofit, and the money you earn helps pay for your day-to-day expenses while you’re enrolled in classes.
Unlike other forms of financial aid, the money you earn isn’t sent directly to your school. You earn a paycheck as you work, just like with any other job. The money goes straight to you.
Undergraduates are paid by the hour, and graduate and professional students can be paid a salary or paid by the hour. Your pay can’t be less than the federal minimum wage, and you must be paid at least once per month.
However, the number of hours you can work and the total amount you can earn will be limited by your work-study award given by the federal government. The majority of the money you earn will generally come from the government, not your employer.
Work-study eligibility requirements
To be eligible for federal work study, you must:
- Be eligible for federal student aid
- Be enrolled as an undergraduate, graduate, or professional student, full- or part-time
- Have financial need, as defined by the federal government
How to get a work-study job
Getting a work-study job is a little more complicated than other types of employment. Here’s how it works:
- Fill out the FAFSA. Work study is part of your overall federal financial aid package. This all starts with completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly known as FAFSA. This form asks you for details on your family’s finances and the schools you‘re applying to attend to determine how much financial aid you’d need. On the FAFSA, you can also indicate that you’re interested in work study.
- Receive financial aid offers. After completing the FAFSA, you’ll typically receive a financial aid offer from the schools you’re accepted to that can include scholarships, grants, student loans, and work study.
- Accept your award offer. After selecting the college or university you want to attend, evaluate the financial aid package you’ve been offered. You have the option of accepting or declining certain forms of aid. If you’re offered federal work study as part of your aid package, you’ll need to formally accept it to take part.
- Land a job. When you accept federal work study as part of your financial aid, you don’t automatically get a job. Your school may place you in one, or you may be required to find one on your own. Your college’s financial aid office will be able to help you figure out the process and which jobs qualify. Often, these positions are working for the college itself, though they may be with area nonprofits or with a for-profit company in some cases.
- Manage your work study with your employer and the financial aid office. When you begin work, your school will help you determine how many hours you’ll work over the course of the semester to meet your maximum work-study award. Employers are also prohibited from requiring you to work during your class time. Keep up with your hours, your class schedule, and your total work-study award to make sure your work schedule falls within all the parameters. Your college or university’s financial aid office should be able to help.
Check Out: How to Pay for College With No Money Saved
Work study vs. a regular job
Work study is similar to a regular job while you’re in school, but with some crucial differences. Here’s a breakdown of how work study compares with traditional employment while you’re enrolled in a college or university.
|Work study||Regular job|
|Hour limits||Dictated by your federal work-study award. Generally part-time, between 7-15 hours per week.||Not limited. Above 40 hours per week, you must be paid overtime.|
|Average pay||At least minimum wage||At least minimum wage|
|How you get paid||Directly, through a paycheck or direct deposit||Directly, through a paycheck or direct deposit|
|Location||Typically on-campus or at a local nonprofit||On-campus or off-campus|
|Schedule flexibility||Employers are required to work around your class schedule||Depends on your employer|
Work study benefits and drawbacks
Work study can be a good way to earn money for your day-to-day expenses while in school, but the program isn’t without its drawbacks:
- Benefits: You can earn money for your expenses without needing to take out additional student loans that you’ll have to pay back. Work study also includes federal protections that will keep you from being pressured to work during class time. You may also be able to work on campus, which can be convenient for students.
- Drawbacks: Unlike a regular job, you’re limited in how much you can work by your federal work-study award. You also aren’t guaranteed to be able to land a job, and you may face stiff competition for the best work-study jobs.
Learn More: How to Pay for College
Common work-study jobs
If you’re awarded federal work study, your school’s financial aid office can give you direction on where you can be employed.
In many cases, these jobs are on campus. You may work for a campus department, such as the financial aid office or library. Jobs may also include:
- Research assistant
- Custodial services
- Food service
Work study can also include working off campus for a local nonprofit, government agency, or community service organization. These jobs must be in the public interest, and can include fields like:
- Social services
- Neighborhood improvement
- Emergency response
Talk to your financial aid office if you’re interested in community-based employment. They may be able to help you find a position in a field you’re interested in.
You may even be able to work for a for-profit company near your college or university. If this is the case, the job you land must be related to your course of study.
Consider a private student loan to assist with your work-study job. The companies in the table below are Credible’s approved partner lenders. Whether you’re the borrower or cosigner, Credible makes it easy to compare rates from multiple private student loan providers without affecting your credit score.
|Lender||Fixed Rates From (APR)||Variable Rates From (APR)|
|4.50%9 - 15.49%9||6.37%9 - 16.70%9|
Lowest APRs reflect autopay, loyalty, and interest-only repayment discounts where available. Prequalified rates are not an offer of credit. | 10Ascent Disclosures | 1Citizens Bank Disclosures | 2,3College Ave Disclosures | 11Custom Choice Disclosures | 7EDvestinU Disclosures | 8INvestEd Disclosures | 9Sallie Mae Disclosures