A College Student’s Guide to Federal Work Study

By Staff Writers

Published on May 25, 2021

A College Student’s Guide to Federal Work Study

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Eligibility, Finding a Job on Campus & Resources

Students who need some extra cash to help pay for school-related and other expenses should consider a federal work-study program. Colleges offer a wide range of part-time work-study jobs on campus, and some jobs are offered off campus as well.

We created this guide to help students learn how federal work-study programs work, from finding a job to expected pay to expert insight on the entire work-study process. Keep reading to learn more about how to begin the process of landing a work-study job.

What is Work Study?

Federal work-study programs are federally subsidized hourly jobs offered to students with demonstrated financial need via the information provided by students on the FAFSA®. Although jobs typically are offered at the colleges and universities through which students are enrolled, they also can be with local, state and federal agencies or private non- and for-profit organizations. Examples of the latter include working as a mathematics or reading tutor at an elementary school or as a literacy tutor in a community-wide literacy project at a state-run educational center. All off-campus work-study positions must advance public interests, the Department of Education reports.

Work-study jobs are designed to provide students with opportunities to earn an income while attending college without have their earnings impact their federal aid and eligibility. More than 3,400 colleges and universities participate in the federal work-study program, the Department of Education notes.

These positions are boon to postsecondary institutions because the employer (a college, university or other organization) typically pays 50 percent of the student’s wages – the rest is subsidized by the federal government. That makes students interested in work-study jobs highly sought after on campus since the employer pays much less in wages than a regular employee in a similar position. Jobs must pay at least the federal minimum wage, though many pay more depending upon the nature of the work and the student-worker’s skills.

In order to be considered for work-study positions, students must have demonstrated financial need and have a work-study award as part of their federal financial aid. Work-study positions are available for both full- and part-time undergraduate, graduate and vocational students who meet this criteria.

Note: Just because students fill out the work-study portion of their FAFSA®and receive an award, they aren’t guaranteed a position – jobs are limited and typically are filled on a first-come basis.

8 Steps to Finding a Work-Study Job

Finding a work-study job doesn’t begin with submitting a resume and landing a job interview. It begins with filling out the proper question on the FAFSA®. Below is a timeline for properly filling out this section of the FAFSA®and potentially landing a work-study gig.

Step 1

Determine if your college or university participates in Federal Work-Study program.

Thousands of institutions are part of the program, but if a prospective college isn’t part of the program then students can’t receive a work-study award.

Step 2

Fill out question 31 on the FAFSA®.

Students interested in being considered for a work-study award should answer “Yes” to this question (answers include yes, no and don’t know). Students should note that selecting yes does not automatically guarantee they will be offered a federal work-study award, and they also aren’t required to accept a work-study job if they receive the award.

Step 3

Determine if you qualify.

The Department of Education has a FAFSA®forecaster that can help students determine their eligibility for federal student aid, including the work-study award.

Step 4

Accept your work-study award.

Students who receive the work-study award aren’t handed money like a grant or scholarship. Work-study funds are monies students must earn by working a work-study job.

Step 5

Obtain a work-study award verification form.

This form can be obtained through an institution’s financial aid office.

Step 6

Find a work-study job.

Work-study jobs typically are posted on campus employment and career web pages along with other open positions on campus.

Step 7

Apply for a work-study job.

Just because students receive work-study as part of their federal aid, they aren’t guaranteed a position on campus or with a local institution. Jobs are limited, and many employers require students to submit an application, resume and conduct an in-person interview.

Step 8

Look ahead.

Students must fill out a FAFSA® for every year in which they wish to receive federal student aid. All the steps above will have to be repeated.

Real-World Work-Study Jobs

Students can find work-study jobs through their school’s financial aid or employment offices. Many institutions have a work-study office to help facilitate student’s entry into these positions. Students should check with their financial aid advisor to determine where to find open positions. It’s important to note that students may not find a position that suits their interests and aren’t required to take a job. If they forgo their employment, though, they can’t use the work-study funds awarded in their FAFSA®.

Work-study jobs can be found across many areas of campus operations. Here are six real-world examples of work-study positions offered at the University of Washington:

Students are limited on the amount of hours they can work. The jobs listed above are for part-time employment up to 19 hours per week. However, the truly important element of hours worked is that total pay earned cannot exceed the student’s work-study award. Financial aid advisors should have a good handle on a student’s number of workable hours, but students also can use the following calculations to determine how many hours per week they can work:

Dollar amount of FAFSA® work-study award  /  number of weeks in school

Total earnings per week / hourly pay rate

If students exceed their FAFSA® allotment, the employer is responsible for 100 percent of their wages. The additional earnings also could negatively impact their expected family contribution on the next year’s FAFSA®.

Balancing the demands of work with the rigors of study can be difficult, but here are some reasons why work-study jobs are great for students.

Oftentimes, students are placed in jobs that dovetail with their major and can ask for additional help or clarification on questions during their shift, which alleviates the need to carve out additional study time.

Students with on-campus work-study jobs also are in the favorable position of being able to craft work schedules around the demands of school – students with off-campus employers may find their work is not as amenable to sudden or prolonged schedule changes.

Work-study students often find jobs that fit their interests. For instance, the curatorial assistant positioned mentioned above is a perfect fit for a student majoring in paleontology. Students can shift through available positions on campus online or with an advisor to determine which positions are the best fit for their interests and skills.

Work-study students have the added benefit of not having to commute to work if they live on campus, which reduces transportation costs. They also can access campus dining facilities, which cuts down on food costs as well.

Getting Paid

Students who land work-study jobs are paid by their employers just like regular employees. They can expect to receive their paychecks based on their employer’s pay schedule. There are a few points about pay through work-study job that should be made clear, however.

Pros and Cons of Choosing Between a Work Study Program and a Part Time Job

There are merits to both forms of employment. For starters, there typically are a limited number of work-study positions available from any college or university, and these jobs typically fill quickly. Students seeking employment outside of work-study jobs, however, have nearly endless possibilities when it comes to finding part-time employment off campus.

But work-study jobs often are directly tied to a student’s major, so students can receive real-world experience through their work-study positions. Making mochas as a barista has helped many college students earn additional income, but it’s typically not a career path for most students.

Brenda Tillman, a senior at Bellevue University in Bellevue, Neb., is majoring in human resources management and has a work-study position within Bellevue’s HR department. One of the things Tillman enjoys most about her work-study job is the fact that it allows her to put classroom instruction into play.

“The work-study program is great because it gives you a chance to see what you may be going to school for is really what you want to do with your life,” Tillman says. “You get to apply the things you are learning to real-life work situations. I think it’s a great program.”

A major drawback to having a part-time job, is that earnings could potentially impact their federal student aid eligibility. With work-study, student earnings are limited to their award amount, and those earnings are exempted on the next year’s FAFSA®. Students who make decent money at part-time jobs could potentially impact their expected family contribution on their FAFSA®, which could reduce the amount of need-based aid they receive. However, cash-strapped students may need the additional income provided by a 20-hour-a-week part-time job. It’s a balancing act each individual student needs to weigh.

Lastly, some employers might not be willing to work around a student’s school schedule, either – something to which employers on campus are likely much more amenable. This can be problematic around finals and midterms, when students should be knuckling down on their studies and shedding unnecessary outside distractions.

Loss of Eligibility

Any form of federal financial aid requires students to maintain eligibility. Work-study eligibility, like other forms of aid, is tied to academic eligibility. Students must maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) to continue receive aid.

School requirements for SAP vary. Students can inquire with their institution’s financial aid office about Satisfactory Academic Progress requirements to ensure they maintain eligibility.


SAP at University of North Texas is a minimum 1.8 grade point average for the first term of enrollment and 2.0 for subsequent terms. Other colleges may have more stringent academic requirements, or stiffer academic criteria for graduate students. Students are often required to complete a certain number of attempted units as well to maintain SAP. That number typically is between 50 and 67 percent of all units attempted.

Rights & Responsibilities as a Student Employee

Students have certain right and responsibilities as work study employees. It’s important to know what they are. Generally, student responsibilities mirror standard workplace guidelines for personal conduct, such as:

Student rights can vary by institution. However, work-study students can expect the following rights:

Work-study students employed by college and universities or private institutions are representatives of those institutions. As such, it’s imperative they conduct themselves in a professional and courteous manner to other staff and students.

Q&A with a Financial Aid Expert

Doug Henely is the Assistant Director of the Financial Aid Department at Bellevue University in Bellevue Nebraska. He’s spent more than a decade in the financial aid field because he is passionate about helping students fulfill personal and professional goals of becoming college graduates.

Do you have any tips or advice on completing the many steps involved with getting into a work-study program?

First answer “Yes” to the question on the FAFSA® that asks if the student is interested in work study. 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 from school to school. The student’s financial aid office or the coordinator of the work study program at the school would be a great place to start with questions on the process of being placed in a work study position.

What are the pros and cons of choosing between a work study program and a part time job?

That’s a tough question. I can’t really think of any cons to being a work study student other than the possibility of spreading oneself too thin by scheduling too much and not having time for studies. One of the pros would be earning money to pay school-related and non-school-related expenses.

How are work-study students paid? What is the rate, how is it determined, and what can students use their money for?

Rates are determined by the individual school and are based on the federal minimum wage rate. The Federal Wage System (FWS) pay rate needs to 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. Money earned can be used however the student wishes.

Any particular rights and responsibilities student employees should know about?

Always keep sensitive data such as student IDs, Social Security numbers and date of birth confidential.

If a student becomes ineligible for work study programs, how can he or she regain eligibility?

To be eligible for Federal Work Study, a student must meet all the general eligibility criteria. For example, he or she must maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP). If a student becomes ineligible for federal financial aid due to failing to maintain SAP, he or she will no longer be eligible for employment as a work study student. To regain eligibility, a student must follow the school’s institutional policy regarding regaining eligibility.

Work Study Resources

Use these resources to learn more about the Federal Work Study program.

Florida State University
FSU outlines the many different types of aid available to students, including work-study.

Indiana University at Bloomington
Outlines who is eligible for work-study jobs and how much students can earn.

Pennsylvania State University
Students can learn how much they can make and other important information through Penn State.

Sallie Mae College Planning
The nation’s leading college lender guides students through the entire work-study process.

University of California at Berkeley
Provides answers to many frequently asked questions about work study.

U.S. Department of Education
The department’s Homeroom blog includes a wealth of reliable information about the work study program.

USA Today College Choice
USA Today looks at considerations of using work-study to pay for college.

University of New Hampshire
Offers tips and advice on the work-study program.

Virginia Commonwealth University
VCU’s comprehensive guide to work-study can help students navigate the entire process of applying for and finding a job.

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AffordableCollegesOnline.org 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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