Guide To The Federal Work-Study Program

Covering college expenses can be challenging. Our guide provides an overview of federal work-study and how to land a work-study job.


Updated April 11, 2023

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Guide To The Federal Work-Study Program is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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The federal work-study program supports college students through part-time employment. The federal government partially pays wages for work-study jobs. This makes these jobs different from typical part-time jobs. Work-study positions usually go to students with financial need.

Work-study is considered earned aid. These funds do not affect other financial aid. Work-study awards usually go to lower-income students. However, all students should still consider applying for work-study when completing the FAFSA.

Our guide to the federal work-study program offers information on eligibility, steps to apply, and examples of work-study jobs.

What is Work-Study?

The federal government awards work-study to help students pay for college. Unlike grants and loans, the federal work-study program pays students for hourly work at various campus and off-campus jobs. Unlike student loans, work-study funds do not require repayment.

Students can use their paychecks from work-study jobs to pay for tuition, housing, and other college expenses. Unlike a traditional part-time job, work-study income does not affect other financial aid awards. Since the funds come partially from the federal government, some campus employers may prefer to hire work-study students.

6 Steps to Secure a Work-Study Job

If students receive a federal work-study award, their college can usually help them find a job. This list highlights the steps to receive work-study.

  1. 1

    Choose a School that Participates in the Program

    Not all colleges offer work-study opportunities. Check with your prospective schools to learn whether they participate in the federal work-study program.

  2. 2

    Complete Question 31 on the FAFSA

    When you complete the FAFSA, answer "Yes" to question 31. This question asks if you want to be considered for federal work-study awards.

  3. 3

    Determine if You Qualify

    Use the Federal Student Aid Estimator to learn if you qualify for work-study based on your financial information. Keep in mind that the estimator does not guarantee you will receive work-study.

  4. 4

    Accept Your Award

    If you qualify for federal work-study, you should receive a notification as part of your financial aid package. You can review your award before you accept it.

  5. 5

    Find a Work-Study Job

    Most colleges offer many work-study positions. Talk to your school's financial aid office or career center for help finding work-study jobs.

  6. 6

    Apply Annually

    Even if you receive a federal work-study award, you must still complete the FAFSA annually to keep receiving aid. Remember to complete the FAFSA accurately and on time each year.

How to Find Work-Study Jobs

Receiving a federal work-study award does not guarantee students a work-study job. Schools can list work-study opportunities, but ultimately, students must find a job. Learners should contact their school's financial aid office or career center for help finding work-study jobs.

Work-study jobs may occur on or off campus. Some schools require degree-seekers to find a job that relates to their academic studies. Others let students take any available job.

Real-World Work-Study Jobs

See below for five work-study opportunities for University of Washington students.

University of Washington

This on-campus position requires students to grade papers for STEM classes. The job pays $17 per hour. Students can work up to 19 hours per week. Students work at the front desk of a campus computer lab. They maintain facilities and provide technical support. The job pays almost $18 per hour and offers up to 19 hours per week. Students work as part of the Department of Mechanical Engineering. They oversee and troubleshoot the use of 3D printing facilities. The job pays $17 per hour and lets students work up to 19 hours per week. Students assist in the lab at Seattle's Institute for Systems Biology for this off-campus summer job. The job pays about $16 per hour and requires 10-15 hours per week. This off-campus summer job places students at a local Montessori school to assist teachers in the classroom. The job pays $15-$17 per hour. Students can work up to 40 hours per week.

Getting Paid

Federal work-study awards are always need-based, and funding is limited. This means most work-study operates on a first-come, first-served basis. The section below answers common questions about getting paid.

Q. How Much Can I Earn?

All federal work-study jobs pay at least the federal minimum wage. Many jobs pay more. A student's work-study pay rate depends mainly on their job and their school's funding level. Applying to the federal work-study program as early as possible can help degree-seekers find high-paying jobs.

Q. How Will I Get Paid?

All undergraduate work-study jobs pay hourly rates. Graduate students may receive a salary or an hourly rate. Work-study jobs must pay students at least once per month. However, some pay every two weeks.

Q. How Many Hours Can I Work?

The number of hours learners can work depends on their overall federal work-study award. Most students work part time or about 10-20 hours per week. If they do not take summer classes, they can often work full time.

Q. What Happens to Unused Work-Study Money?

Unused work-study funds carry over between semesters. Students do not pay a penalty for not using all of their work-study awards in a school year. However, work-study is recalculated annually, so excess funds will not carry over from one school year to the next.

Q. Do My Earnings Count Against My Financial Aid Eligibility?

Work-study earnings do not count toward financial aid eligibility. This feature often makes these jobs more desirable than traditional jobs. When degree-seekers complete the FAFSA, they input their work-study earnings separate from other earnings. Work-study income does not affect the amount of financial aid students receive.

Q. Are My Earnings Applied Directly to My Tuition?

Unlike other types of financial aid, work-study earnings do not apply directly to tuition. Students receive work-study income in a paycheck just like a regular job. In some instances, they can request that a school pay their work-study income directly toward expenses like tuition or campus housing.

Choosing Between a Work-Study Program and a Part-Time Job

Even if students are eligible for federal work-study, they may consider working a part-time job. Both work-study and traditional part-time employment offer pros and cons. For example, students may struggle to find work-study positions, even if they receive a work-study award.

Unlike a traditional part-time job, earnings from a federal work-study job will not affect financial aid eligibility. This means that students may receive a larger financial aid award if they take a work-study job. However, work-study jobs may not run year-round. Degree-seekers may not have a steady job over the summer.

Work-study jobs may also offer more flexibility since they're often connected directly to a college. A work-study position may better accommodate a student's schedule.

Rights and Responsibilities as a Student Employee

Students must meet and maintain several basic qualifications to receive federal work-study. In general, learners must enroll at least part time at an eligible college or university. Undergraduates cannot hold a previous bachelor's degree. This list highlights other major responsibilities.

Student's Responsibility During the Year

To keep a federal work-study award, students must make Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP). Standards vary by school. In general, SAP means students must complete their courses with passing grades. They must also earn enough credits to graduate on time.

If students stop attending classes, fail multiple classes, or withdraw from too many classes, they may lose federal work-study awards and other financial aid.

Student's Annual Requirements

Learners must complete the FAFSA each year to receive federal work-study awards and other financial aid. Even if their financial information stays the same, they must still complete the form annually.

Students may then need to undergo verification. This process requires submitting more financial information. Many schools randomly choose students for verification.

Student's Responsibility to Employer

Degree-seekers must also maintain a productive relationship with their employer as part of their federal work-study eligibility. Federal work-study jobs operate just like other jobs. If a student does not do their job well, their employer may warn or fire them.

In general, students should treat a work-study job like any other job. This means they should show up on time, complete their work, and act professionally.

Q&A With a Financial Aid Expert

Doug Henely

Doug Henely is the assistant director of the financial aid department at Bellevue University. He has spent more than a decade in the financial aid field. He is passionate about helping students graduate college.

Q. What Tips Can You Share for Completing the Steps to Get Into a Work-Study Program?

First, answer "yes" to question 31 on the FAFSA. From there, the school will include federal work-study as part of the student's financial aid award. The process of getting hired or being placed in a work-study position varies by school. Students can learn more from their school's financial aid office or the work-study coordinator.

Q. What Are the Pros and Cons of Choosing Between a Work-Study Program and a Part-Time Job?

I can't think of any cons to being a work-study student other than possibly spreading yourself too thin. You may schedule too much and not save enough time for studies. One of the pros would be earning money.

Q. How Are Work-Study Students Paid? What Is the Rate, How Is It Determined, and How Can Students Use Their Money?

Individual schools determine rates based on the federal minimum wage rate. The Federal Wage System pay rate must be at least the minimum wage rate. If a local or state law requires a higher minimum wage than the federal rate, the school must pay the student at the higher wage rate. Students can use the money how they wish.

Q. Any Rights and Responsibilities Student Employees Should Know?

Always keep sensitive data such as student IDs, Social Security numbers, and birthdates confidential.

Q. If Students Become Ineligible for Work-Study Programs, How Can They Regain Eligibility?

Students must meet all the general eligibility criteria to be eligible for federal work-study. For example, they must maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress. Students who become ineligible by failing to maintain SAP are no longer eligible for employment as a work-study student. To regain eligibility, students must follow the school's institutional policy regarding regaining eligibility.

Work-Study Resources

IU students can pursue various part-time work-study jobs. The school's Career Development Center can help students connect to work-study opportunities. Penn State offers several options for work-study recipients. Examples include traditional work-study and a child mentoring program. The school also has a community service work program. Loan provider Sallie Mae offers this guide to federal work-study. The guide includes information on qualifying for work-study opportunities and choosing the right job. Berkeley offers a broad overview of its work-study program. The program includes job listings, eligibility requirements, and answers to common questions. UNH's financial aid office provides information on work-study and other types of student aid, such as scholarships and student loans. VCU's Student Financial Services offers information on work-study programs and other financial aid. Students can also connect to dedicated financial counselors who can explain the federal work-study program.

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