Federal Work-Study is a program in which students work part-time for their schools (e.g., in the library, dining hall, or science lab) and in return earn money that can be, but is not required to be, applied to their educational costs. Students who qualify for work-study must demonstrate financial need, but typically not as much as would be necessary to qualify for federal grants. Not only does work-study provide money, but it also provides valuable experience that would boost any résumé.


What is work-study?

Work-study is exactly what it sounds like: You will both work and study while you’re in college. The Federal Work-Study Program intends to provide students with work experience in exchange for a fair wage as a type of financial aid. Students can then choose to apply their wages to their tuition bills or keep the money for themselves. Work-study jobs are mainly on campus, but off-campus jobs are sometimes available (typically for a nonprofit organization or public agency). If possible, students are assigned a job relevant to their majors, but upperclassmen often have first pick.

Who is eligible for work-study?

Work-study is available to both full- and part-time undergraduate, graduate, and professional students with demonstrated financial need.

How do I apply for work-study?

The application for work-study is the same as for any other federal financial aid: Filing the FAFSA. Provided your school participates in the Federal Work-Study Program (contact the financial aid office), you will automatically qualify based on your level of financial need. Work-study jobs are allotted on a first-come, first-served basis, so applying for aid early is in your financial best interest. You can begin completing the FAFSA on October 1 each year.

What is a work-study award?

When you receive a financial aid offer, it will tell you if you qualify for work-study. You may receive your award in a dollar amount or in hours. This is either the total number of hours you can work or the greatest amount of money you can make each academic year. Don’t be surprised that it doesn’t look like you’ll be working full-time. You will work limited hours based on your award, course load, and academic progress. You cannot exceed these hours.

You will earn at least federal minimum wage for your work-study position, but your wages could be higher depending on the job and available funding. Undergraduates typically earn an hourly wage while graduate and professional students earn either an hourly wage or a salary (stipend).

Do I have to accept a work-study award?

No, you are not obligated to accept any financial aid that you do not want. If you do not think that you can handle the pressure of working and completing your classes, feel free to turn down the offer. You may also choose to talk to your financial aid office about accepting a portion of the award. For instance, if you don’t think you can work 10 hours each week while enrolled full-time, you could ask to accept only half the award and work five hours each week. You could also take a semester to get used to school and then accept your work-study award for your second semester. The financial aid office at your school will be able to help you with the logistical side of this decision.

How will I get paid?

Your school will pay you directly, either with a check or direct deposit at least once a month. If you would prefer to divert your wages toward the balance remaining on your tuition bill, you can request that your school make those arrangements instead.

What if I don’t qualify for work-study but still want to work on campus?

Many campuses have more jobs than they have students to fill them. If you’re interested in working on campus, you can contact either the financial aid office (after receiving your offer) or search for information about student employment on your school’s website. Most will have a job board where you can browse listings and apply for jobs that interest you. If you don’t mind a walk or a short commute, you may be able to find part-time work near campus as well.

Page last updated: 08/2017