If you’re looking for another way to help pay for college, Federal Work-Study may be a great option for you. Work-study is a way for students to earn money to pay for school through part-time on- (and sometimes off-) campus jobs. The program gives students an opportunity to gain valuable work experience while pursuing a college degree.
However, not every school participates in the Federal Work-Study Program. Schools that do participate have a limited amount of funds they can award to eligible students. This is why it is so important for students to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form as early as possible, as some schools award work-study funds on a first-come, first-served basis.
Here are eight things you should know about the Federal Work-Study Program:
Accepting the Federal Work-Study funds you’re offered is just the first step. In order to receive those funds, you need to earn them, which means you need to start by finding a work-study job.
Some schools may match students to jobs, but most schools require the student to find, apply for, and interview for positions on their own, just like any other job. Either way, students who are interested in work-study or who have already been awarded work-study should contact the financial aid office at their school to find out whether positions are available, how to apply and how the process works at their school.
The availability of work-study positions includes community service options with non-profit employers, which means some work-study jobs are available for off-campus work. (An example: reading to or tutoring children at local elementary schools.) If you are curious about securing a community service work-study position, contact the financial aid office or the career center on campus.
Work-study jobs vary in qualifications and responsibilities, so the pay will depend on the job that you are hired to do. Pay may also depend on your school’s policies and/or the minimum wage requirements in the state.
You may still be able to work on campus without work-study if your school does not have enough work-study funds or positions to cover all on-campus student employees. Many campuses offer jobs for students with or without work-study. Check with the student employment office on your campus to find out what is available.
One of the benefits of earning income through a Federal Work-Study position is that those earnings do not count against you when you complete the FAFSA form. There’s a question on the FAFSA form that asks how much was earned through work-study during a particular tax year; make sure to answer that question accurately so the amount can be factored out. If you do not know how much you earned, you can contact the financial aid office at your school for help.
Unlike other types of financial aid, work-study earnings are not applied directly to your tuition and fees. Students who are awarded work-study receive the funds in a paycheck as they earn them, based on hours worked, just like a normal job. These earnings are meant to help with the day-to-day expenses that students have and are not meant to cover large costs like tuition and housing.
How many hours you work each week will depend on the type of job you get and your employer’s expectations. Most employment positions for students, however, will work around your class schedule and only require between 10 and 20 hours per week, but again—that can vary!
There are several factors that can determine whether or not you receive work-study from year to year. These include your family income or financial need, whether you used the work-study funds that were offered to you in a prior year, and/or how much work-study funding your school receives that year.
Contact your school for specific awarding criteria if you are interested in work-study. Typically, students who file the FAFSA form early and answer that they are interested in Federal Work-Study will have a better chance of being awarded funds from the program.
Chandra Owen is the training coordinator in the office of financial aid at Michigan State University. Justin Chase Brown, director of scholarships & financial aid at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Karla Weber, communications manager in the office of student financial aid at the University of Wisconsin-Madison