Work-Study Programs

Paying for College

Work-Study Definition & Guide

Funding your college education may be one of the biggest challenges you face in your life. Of course, student loans exist to help you deal with the immediate financial burden. However, you may wish to limit your use of these loans to ensure you’re not making repayments years after your studies end.

Many scholarship programs can also help to fund your college education. Unfortunately, most people can’t access this type of financial aid. Furthermore, those eligible may find they only have access to partial scholarships that don’t cover their total costs.

If you cannot access a scholarship and don’t want to take out a large student loan, you have an alternative in work-study programs.

Here, we examine these programs, how they work, and some of the most common questions about work-study programs.

What is Work-Study?

Work-study programs help college students meet their financial needs by finding them part-time jobs to support themselves as they study. Most of these programs are federally funded, though some are funded at the state level.

The most important thing to note about these programs is that they aren’t designed to cover the total cost of your education. In most cases, you will need to combine a work-study program with your savings, a loan, or a partial scholarship. However, they help you earn much-needed funds, allowing you to limit the size of your loans and potentially retain more of your savings.

These programs are available to all undergraduate, graduate, and professional students who need financial assistance. They’re also available to both full and part-time students.

Why Should You Consider Work-Study Programs?

Beyond the financial benefit, work-study programs provide many students with their first taste of the world of work. In some cases, you may be able to use a program to begin building connections with people who can aid you in your future career. However, even if this is not the case, work-study programs help you get accustomed to what’s expected of you in a work environment.

Depending on your chosen job, these programs may also help you serve a social cause.

If you choose to work on campus, you will likely work for your college in whatever capacity they choose. Roles are varied and determined by the college’s needs.

However, working off-campus usually means working for either a public agency or a nonprofit organization. In both cases, the work you perform with these groups must serve the public interest.

Some colleges form agreements with more traditional for-profit employers as part of their work-study programs. If this is the case for your school, any job you take must be related to your field of study. In addition, depending on your school, other restrictions may apply to these types of roles.

Applying for Work-Study Programs

You apply for work-study programs via the Federal Student Aid (FSA) website. Once you’ve completed your application, the FSA will determine if you’re eligible for a program and then let you know. However, you’re under no obligation to accept the offer of a work-study program, even if it is part of your federal aid award.

To apply for work-study programs, complete the following steps:

First, create an account on the FSA website, which gives you login details and an FSA ID.

Using your FSA ID, access and complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form on the FSA website.

Make sure that you answer “Yes” to the question “Are you interested in being considered for work-study?”

Note that asking to be considered for work-study programs does not guarantee that you will be accepted into one.

What Happens Once You’ve Submitted Your Application?

Once you’ve submitted your FAFSA form with your school’s financial aid office, you’ll wait several weeks, and sometimes several months, to receive a response. This response will be a financial aid award, which lists the various types of programs you’re eligible for. Relevant work-study programs will be on this list if you qualify for them. Your college awards its work-study funds based on several factors, including your financial needs and the availability of funds.

In some cases, the financial aid award letter you receive will list an amount of money for your work-study program. For example, it may say that you will receive $10,000 as part of the program.

This is not a guarantee.

You will only receive this amount of money if you find an appropriate work-study job and then work enough hours to earn money. Therefore, the figure provided is the maximum amount you will receive, rather than a flat statement for the amount of aid you’ll get.

How Much Money Will You Earn?

The exact amount of money you can earn depends on your financial aid award. This is true for both undergraduate and graduate students. However, there are some essential points to remember about the money you make and how it is paid to you.

All work-study programs pay at least the current hourly federal minimum wage. If yours does not, this is an issue that you must discuss with your school. Some work-study jobs pay more than the minimum wage, though these jobs often require more specialized skills.

In terms of the total amount you’ll be paid, this is defined in your financial aid award letter.

It’s also important to note that you cannot work unlimited hours. You only work the number of hours spread out over your college career that is needed to reach the maximum aid amount in your federal aid letter. Once you reach this threshold, you will no longer be eligible for work-study programs. However, you are not prevented from getting a non-related part-time job once your program ends.

How Do You Get Paid?

How students with financial need receive money varies depending on their student status.

Undergraduates are paid hourly, with the money arriving in your account at least once per month. Your wages are paid to your school, ensuring that you receive them.

Graduate students work under a similar pay structure. However, they’re also able to take on salaried roles. Again, the payment is sent to the student’s school, which delivers the money to the student.

In both cases, your school must pay you directly via check unless you make one of the following requests:

  • Payment directly to your bank account.
  • The school uses the money to pay directly for fees related to your education. So, for example, you can ask that the money automatically goes toward your tuition or room costs.

You are not required to spend the money on anything specific. It is yours once earned, meaning you can use it for whatever you deem necessary.

Applying for Future Financial Aid

Taking part in any work-study program does not preclude you from receiving financial aid in the future. For example, if you were accepted into a program during your first year, you’re not prevented from receiving financial assistance in your second year and beyond.

The caveat here is that you must complete a FAFSA each year so that the FSA can determine how much financial aid is due to you.
Let’s assume you were accepted into one of your college’s work-study programs during your first year.

You must complete a new FAFSA application at the end of that year. Only now, you must complete the section that asks how much money you earned from working during the year. The FAFSA form explains how to use your IRS form to calculate this amount.

You must also complete a section that asks how much in taxable earnings you received from work-study programs, fellowships, or apprenticeships.

Once it has this information, the FSA will use it in new calculations to determine how much financial aid you’re eligible to receive during your second year. If you’re accepted into any work-study programs during your second year, you will repeat this process before beginning your third year.

Final Things That You Need to Know

Now that you understand what work-study programs are and how to apply for them, there are a few final things to keep in mind:

Being accepted for a work-study program does not automatically mean you have a job waiting for you when you start college. Instead, it’s the first step in a process that involves you actively searching for a relevant job once you know you’re eligible for the aid.

Many colleges offer on-campus jobs for students who are not in work-study programs. Happily, this means you’re not prevented from working on campus if you aren’t part of a program.

Your hours and pay may vary, though they’ll never exceed the maximum awarded to you in your financial aid award. If they do, contact the relevant authorities at your college to ensure the mistake is rectified.

Work to Fund Your Studies

With work-study programs, you can gain additional funds for your college education. You also gain experience in the workplace and may make connections that help you in your future career.

However, you must also understand that taking part in these programs means you’re making a time commitment away from your studies. While your school will do its best to ensure your work doesn’t interfere with why you’re attending college, you must still make the decision that’s right for you. Sacrificing your education to work more hours could lead to issues when test time rolls around.

Still, work-study programs are beneficial to students who require financial assistance. Plus, they reduce your reliance on student loans, meaning you face a lower financial burden upon graduation.

Work Study Jobs and Programs

Let’s take a quick look at some prime examples of jobs that qualify for work-study.

  • College office assistant
  • College tour guide
  • IT specialist
  • Fitness center assistant
  • Tutoring
  • Mail room assistant
  • Lab tech assistant
  • Daycare assistant
  • Help desk operator
  • Library assistant