Can Work Study Jobs Really Offset College Costs?

work study jobs

The best financial aid is the kind you don’t have to pay back. And work study jobs offer just that.

However, you will spend plenty of time earning that money with work-study, so it’s important to make sure it’s a good fit.

And while It’s a great way to earn extra money in college, work-study has its own set of rules that can be quite different from regular employment.

So before you start counting on it as a source of financial aid, make sure you know what to expect from work study jobs.

What’s the Federal Work-Study program?

The U.S. Department of Education funds the Federal Work-Study Program (FSW), a form of financial aid that students need not pay back. There are approximately 3,400 participating postsecondary schools that currently receive FSW funds.

How much each school gets depends on how much the school received previously, as well as how many students demonstrated need the previous academic year. Each institution must reapply every year for work-study funds.

Most participating schools offer their own work-study jobs on campus. They can also enter into partnerships with third-party, off-campus employers as well.

Depending on the job, schools may be responsible for paying up to 50 percent of wages for federal work study jobs. Then, the remaining wages are funded by the federal government.

That said, there are some positions for which the Federal Work-Study Program covers everything, like tutoring in reading and math.

To find out if your school participates in the Federal Work-Study Program, start by contacting their financial aid office.

How do I get set up with work study jobs?

Federal work-study is awarded the same way as any other type of student aid. That is, if you are interested in a work-study job (or any other kind of financial assistance), you must submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.

If you’ve never filled one out before, check out our guide on how to correctly do so. Essentially, as long as you demonstrate financial need, you may qualify for the Federal Work-Study Program.

Work study hours and jobs at participating schools are open to:

· Part-time students

· Full-time students

· Undergraduates

· Graduates

· Professional students

Qualifying for this program will depend on a couple of factors, including the amount of your Expected Family Contribution and the availability of work-study jobs at your school.

And if you end up qualifying for work-study, it will be included in your school’s financial aid offer.

What types of work study jobs are available?

Participating schools offer work-study positions in community service and areas specific to your course of study.

You could find yourself working on-campus, employed by your school. Or, you may find yourself in an off-campus work study job for a government agency, non-profit organization, or even a private for-profit company.

A minimum of seven percent of available jobs must be community service-oriented in areas like tutoring and emergency preparedness and response. Additionally, any work study jobs you take with a private for-profit company must be relevant to your course of study.

Keep in mind that simply qualifying for the work-study program does not guarantee you job placement. It’s up to you to apply for available work-study positions.

That’s why it is so important to get the ball rolling as soon as possible, especially if jobs are limited. Your school’s financial aid office can point you in the right direction for your work-study job search.

Make sure you take some time to updating your resume, working on your cover letters, and prepping for those interviews. You might only get one chance at taking advantage of work study jobs.

What can I expect with a work study job?

Your schedule

All federal work study jobs have part-time hours, the number of which will depend on the amount of aid you are awarded. They’re also flexible hours dependent on your class schedule.

On the one hand, the part-time nature of work-study ensures you have plenty of time to study. However, your income is limited. So temper your expectations of this financial aid source and work study hours accordingly.

Your pay

All federal work-study jobs must pay at least the federal minimum wage.

However, some jobs could pay more. It just depends on the demands of the job, as well as your experience and skill level.

How you get paid

If you’re an undergraduate, you will be paid by the hour.

And if you are a graduate or professional student, you could be paid hourly. Or, it might be a salaried position depending on the nature of the work.

Unlike other financial aid sources, work-study money is paid directly to you. Frequency varies, but you must be paid at least once a month.

Budget wisely

Since work-study funds are paid out to you directly, you have complete control over how this financial aid is used.

So if you haven’t already, get yourself on a basic college budget and use your work-study income wisely.

How does work-study compare to a regular job?

Any opportunity to work for extra money in college can be a good one. But if you’re torn between work-study and a regular job, keep in mind a few key differences:

Type of job

Who knows what kind of regular job you could find yourself settling for.

At least with work-study, you know your position will be in community service or in the very field you’re in school to learn about in the first place.


When you have a regular job, your employer isn’t going to prioritize your class schedule.

While they may try and work around it, there is no guarantee. There’s also the challenge of taking time off to go home during the holidays.

With work-study, though, it’s all about working around your needs as a student.

Impact on student aid eligibility

Work-study pay counts as a grant. Therefore, the income does not affect your other student aid eligibility.

On the other hand, if you just got a regular job, it does affect your eligibility and could mean less student aid in the future.

Earnings potential

This is where a work-study job comes up a bit short.

While it helps that no Social Security or Medicare taxes will come out of your paycheck for a work-study job, earnings potential is limited.

It is possible to earn more than minimum wage in certain positions. However, you can never work more work-study hours than your award allows.

Are work study jobs worth it?

Submit your FAFSA and see what happens. If you qualify for work-study, great. Apply for the available jobs and go through the interview process.

Worst case scenario, you don’t find anything that works and you look for a job elsewhere. Best case scenario, you find the perfect fit and get paid to learn about something you love.

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