Complete Guide to Work-Study
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By Kristen Kuchar

September 23, 2020

Work-study offers part-time jobs during the academic year for college students with financial need. Work-study is a type of financial aid. But, unlike grants (free money) or federal student loans (need to be repaid plus interest), students work a job and earn money to help pay for expenses while they’re in college. 

This is what you need to know about work-study: who is eligible, how much you can earn, how to apply, and how to find a work-study job.

What is Work-Study?

The Federal Work-Study program allows undergraduate and graduate students with financial need an opportunity to work a part-time job to help pay for education expenses. About 10 percent of students in Bachelor’s degree programs receive Federal Work-Study jobs. 

Part of the wages for a Federal Work-Study job come from the federal government and part from the college.

Some colleges also offer College Work-Study, where all of the funding comes from the college.

Work-study jobs are usually conveniently located on campus, but there can be off-campus work-study jobs as well. At least 7 percent of Federal Work-Study jobs involve community service, such as reading and math tutors. 

Hours are limited to what you are awarded. The typical Federal Work-Study job involves about 12 hours per week. Students who work 12 hours per week are just as likely to graduate as students who do not work during the academic term. Working more than 12 hours a week, however, can affect academic performance. 

If you work a job that is not in Federal Work-Study or a College Work-Study program, that income is factored in when it comes time to fill out the FAFSA next year. However, any income earned in need-based student employment is not counted against you when determining the financial aid you will receive.

Income earned through work-study is taxable. Wages in Federal Work-Study, however, are exempt from FICA taxes if the student works less than 20 hours per week. 

Work-study is a good opportunity to earn money, reduce student loan debt and gain work experience, which could help lead to an internship or other paid opportunities.

Who is Eligible for Work-Study?

Students who have filed out the FAFSA and demonstrate financial need are available for Federal Work-Study. It’s available to undergraduate, graduate and professional students, including students who are enrolled full-time and part-time. 

Not all colleges offer a work-study program so check with your college’s financial aid office.

If you do not qualify for work-study, that does not prevent you from finding a job on or near campus or other part-time jobs while in school. You can also work a full-time job during the summer. 

See also: These Companies Will Help You Pay for College

How do I Apply for Work-Study?

The first step to applying for a Federal Work-Study job is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, better known as the FAFSA. The FAFSA is your ticket to federal assistance in paying for college, which includes grants, federal student loans, and the opportunity to participate in Federal Work-Study.

To improve your chances of qualifying for Federal Work-Study, fill out the FAFSA early and be sure to indicate you are interested in a work-study position when that question arises. 

If you demonstrate financial need, you may have the opportunity to participate in work-study, which you will find out on your financial aid award letter. If you’ve decided you do not want to pursue a work-study position, there is no obligation to.

Once you accept the Federal Work-Study funds, you still need to find a job in the program and work to earn that money. This requires find a job that’s a good fit, applying, interviewing and accepting the position. 

How Do I Find a Work-Study Job?

Contact your college’s financial aid office to learn if your college participates in the program and how to find work-study jobs. Some colleges have a job search database, which you can specifically search for work-study jobs. Some colleges have a student employment office that helps students find work-study jobs.

The hours you will work in a work-study program depend on the job. Generally, work-study is between 10 and 20 hours per week.

How Much Do I Make with Work-Study?

The pay for a work-study job depends on the specific job. You’ll earn at least the federal minimum wage, which is currently $7.25 per hour. 

For undergraduate students, you are paid at an hourly rate. Graduate and professional students can be paid by the hour or in a salary, depending on the position.

With the Federal Work-Study program, your college will pay you at least once per month. You will be paid directly, unless you have requested that the college send payments to your bank account or uses the money for tuition, fees or other institutional charges.

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