Federal Work-Study: Frequently Asked Questions


The federal work-study program gives students a chance to work part-time jobs to fund college costs.


1. What is federal work-study?
The work-study program subsidizes the paychecks of college and graduate students who work qualifying part-time, typically on-campus jobs. Participants can use funds earned through work-study to pay for college expenses.

2. How do students qualify for work-study?
Students must file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to become eligible for work-study. Participants must demonstrate financial need and those who file the FAFSA early often have a better shot at qualifying. Schools may award aid on a first-come, first-served basis.

3. Does everyone qualify for work-study?
Not all students qualify for federal work study. Students who don’t qualify based on need, don’t file the FAFSA or don’t attend a participating school may not receive federal work-study. Students who don’t qualify for federal work-study may be able to secure institutional work-study, when a department or academic office hires students using university funds.

4. How can I determine whether I’ll qualify for work-study?
Students can plug their family incomes and other information into the federal FAFSA4caster tool in order to get an estimate, based on the national average, of how much work-study they could receive and how it’ll stack up against other federal loans and grants.

5. What kinds of work-study jobs are available to students?
Students can work both on- and off-campus, putting in hours at anything from slinging burgers at the cafeteria to crunching numbers as a lab assistant. They may hold off-campus jobs with approved private nonprofit or public organizations. Jobs at for-profit companies may be available if they’re relevant to a student’s studies.

6. How much can I earn?
Students earn the federal minimum wage, at the very least, and may earn more. While undergraduates are paid by the hour, graduate students can earn either hourly wages or a salary.

7. How can I apply work-study earnings to my tuition bill?
A school will pay its students directly unless they request a direct deposit into a bank account or automatic payment toward educational expenses, such as tuition and fees.

8. Must I accept a work-study offer?
Students who choose not to work during the academic year can opt to decline federal work-study. They can choose instead to make up that amount through loans, savings or a non-work-study job, among other options.

9. What are the benefits to participating in work-study?
In addition to earning extra cash for college, work-study participants may pick up professional skills and make on-campus contacts. Students may get a chance to work in a field related to their major and with a boss who understands that studying is a priority. A good boss can help schedule work around classes and serve as a future job reference.

10. What are the drawbacks to participating in work-study?
Students already struggling to get through class may want to ease up on their work schedules. Overdoing the college job may cause them to fall behind, delay graduation and ultimately pay more for college. In the end, it’s up to the student to determine whether they can balance part-time employment with a busy class schedule.

pic3Susannah Snider is an education reporter at U.S. News, covering paying for college and graduate school. You can follow her on Twitter or email her at ssnider@usnews.com.


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