What You Should Know About Federal Work-Study Jobs

By Chris Kolmar
Oct. 18, 2022
Articles In Guide

Find a Job You Really Want In

College is expensive even with in-state tuition and scholarships. To help students pay for their studies and minimize their debt, the government created a federal work-study program that provides part-time jobs to college students.

In this article, we’ll go over what work-study is, what you should know about the program, and how to find work-study jobs.

Key Takeaways

  • You have to apply for the federal work-study program every year when you fill out your FAFSA application.

  • Federal work-study jobs can be on or off campus.

  • Once you’re awarded federal work-study, you have to apply for a job just as you would normally.

What You Should Know About Federal Work-Study Jobs

What Is Work-Study?

The federal work-study program is a government education program. It provides both undergraduate and graduate students that have a financial need with part-time jobs. Your wages from that job will help you pay for your tuition, books, transportation, and other regular living expenses.

Some of these jobs will be on campus while others will be off campus. You can be employed by the institution in which you are learning, as well as a state, local, or federal public agency. It all depends on what jobs are available in your area. You can also seek employment at a nonprofit organization.

Both part-time and full-time students can access this form of financial aid if they are eligible for it. It is a good idea to get into this program because you will incur a lower amount of student loan debt.

What You Should Know About the Work-Study Program

  • Currently, there are about 3400 institutions that take part in the federal work-study program. These include colleges, professional schools, and universities.

  • The U.S. Department of Education oversees the programs and distributes the federal funding to each of the participating institutions. But the amount given will depend on the student’s financial needs and the work-study jobs available.

  • Federal work-study jobs must pay at least the federal minimum hourly wage or salary. But remember that the money you earn through the work-study program is taxable and must be included in your tax information.

  • The journey to getting a work-study job starts by filing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. Be sure to indicate your interest in the work-study program when you apply for financial aid. Only then can you be considered for the Federal work-study program in your school.

  • You can complete the FAFSA form online via the Department of Education website. Then you need to send this form to the school in which you intend to study or the one you are already in.

  • Eligible students will qualify for different financial aid awards. The award amount that you get will depend on:

    1. How much funding your institution receives

    2. Your financial need level

    3. When you apply for the funding – the earlier you apply the better

  • Under no circumstance should the amount that you earn exceed the award that you have been given.

    Therefore, your institution’s financial aid office or employer must assign your work hours based on this limit. And they must also consider your academic schedule and the learning progress you are making. So, make sure your GPA doesn’t slip.

  • Both the participating institution and the federal government play a role in paying the student who takes part in the federal work-study program.

    There are times though when the government will assume most or all of the financial responsibility. The good news is that you don’t have to pay back this money because you earn it through work.

  • Receiving a federal work-study funds doesn’t guarantee you a job. You still have to go out and find a job yourself, just as you would without this program. Just make sure the job you find qualifies for the federal work-study program.

  • Being awarded a federal work-study for one year doesn’t guarantee it for the next year. Don’t assume that just because you have a federal work-study grant your freshman year you’ll automatically have it for the rest of your college career — you’ll have to reapply every year.

    You may not get a work-study if your financial eligibility changes, if you didn’t fully use the funds you received the year before, or if your school receives less federal work-study money than it did the year before.

    To give yourself the best shot of getting work-study funds every year, file your FAFSA form as early as possible, making sure to mark that you’re interested in federal work-study.

How to Find Work-Study Jobs

You must take a proactive approach to find a job if you get into the federal work-study program.

A federal work-study grant does not guarantee you that you will be hired. So, if your institution does not offer you the job you need, then you must look for one on your own. It pays to look for jobs in several places.

You can then apply for them, and then interview. If you pass an interview, you will get the job and the funding that comes with it.

Factors to Consider When Looking For Work-Study Jobs

Some of the factors that you should consider when looking for work-study jobs include:

  • Distance from campus. Ideally, a job within campus offers the easiest commute. But such jobs are not always easy to get. If anything, there is probably a higher level of competition for those jobs.

    Therefore, if you are to look for a job outside campus, ensure it takes a short time to get to so that you don’t waste a lot of time going to work.

    Remember, you will still be studying at the same time. The last thing you want is to become too tired to pay attention in class and learn. It defeats the whole point of working if you can’t keep up with your fellow students.

  • Payment amount. The government requires that any work-study job pays at least the minimum wage. But it would be more convenient for you can get a higher paying job that enables you to earn the required amount within a shorter period. Having such a job will enable you to have more free time to study and enjoy college life.

    Also, remember that some employers will pay you by the hour while others will pay a salary. Typically, undergraduates tend to be paid by the hour.

    But professional as well as graduate students tend to get paid either by the hour or a salary. If you have multiple payment options available to you, think about which structure makes the most sense to you as you apply for a job.

  • Enjoyment. Think seriously about what you want to do after you finish your course before applying for a job. When you find work within the industry that you are interested in, it will help you gain the necessary skills and boost your resume.

    And even though you will be working because you need financial aid, you will still enjoy what you do because it interests you.

  • Networking opportunities. It has often been said that who you know is better than what you know. Well, being able to form relationships with the leaders in your industry is a good thing especially if you work in an industry that is tough to find work in. Find a job that is along the lines of what you want to do.

The people you work with while studying will be the ones that recommend you if you make a good impression on them. And their recommendations will help you get access to better-paying jobs when you graduate.

Types of Jobs That You Can Do As Part of Your Work-Study Program

The work-study jobs you apply for and get should, ideally, be in your line of work or those that require transferable skills that you already possess. Where possible, they tend to be the kinds of jobs that are meant to benefit the community.

Some of the jobs that you can do while you study include the following:

  • Teaching tasks. If you are a good student that excels in your studies, you can get teaching and tutoring roles within the institution that you are attending. You can also work for nonprofits that promote literacy and education among underprivileged communities.

  • Administrative tasks. As a work-study student, you could be hired to help run one of the offices on campus or in a different office outside the campus. Your tasks would include handling incoming calls, answering emails, managing office paperwork, and digital files, etc.

  • Research tasks. You may be able to work as a research assistant in your institution. You could work in the library or even the school labs depending on where your strength lies. These kinds of jobs are more likely to be accessible to you if you excel academically.

  • Student life tasks. Some of the student-life tasks you may be able to do as part of your work-study program include being a campus tour guide, resident assistant, etc.

  • Fitness tasks. Are you an athletic person? Then consider working at the college gym in some capacity. You could also work as a lifeguard or swim trainer.

The above roles are just a few examples of tasks that you can do as a work-study employee. There plenty of other options available, especially if you choose to explore jobs outside of campus and in private for-profit organizations. So, don’t limit yourself.

How You Will Get Paid

Since you have some flexibility concerning how you use your money, there are several payment options available. These include:

  • Direct deposit into your student account. This is an excellent option if you need tuition assistance as well as help paying for room and board expenses.

  • Check. You’ll have to cash this at your own bank, but then you can use the money to pay for your tuition, room and board, or personal expenses.

  • Direct deposit into a private bank account belonging to you. This option doesn’t require you to cash your paycheck, and it allows you to use the money for whatever you may need it for.

Final Thoughts

There is a reason why many people seriously consider the financial costs of college education just as heavily as their academic needs. A college education is extremely expensive.

An in-state public college will cost about $10,000. If you are an out-of-state student, then you would have to pay about S21,000.

But if you were to pursue a similar course at a private college, your expenses would rise to a shocking $35,000.

Between the academic tuition and living expenses, you may end up failing to finish college. That’s where the federal work-study (FWS) program comes in.

One of the great things about obtaining funds through the federal work-study program is that it all belongs to you (minus the taxes of course). You will not have to pay it back later as you would if you received regular student loans.

You also have the freedom to use the money the way you want. Nobody gets to dictate to you what to spend your earnings on.

Additionally, when you receive payment via the work-study program, the money you earn will not be held against you when you apply for financial aid the next year. That means you can continue to study while offsetting your college expenses each year so long as you make it into the program.

So, when filling in the FAFSA form, don’t be afraid to state how much you earned during the previous year if applicable. And if you can’t remember, your financial aid office can help you determine the amount.

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating / 5. Vote count:

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

Articles In Guide
Never miss an opportunity that’s right for you.


Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

Related posts