Q&A: What’s Federal Work-Study?

Need to earn money in college? If you were awarded financial aid, you may be eligible to get a job on campus through the federal government’s work-study program.

What is Federal Work-Study? It’s a part-time job, typically on campus, that’s open to undergraduate and graduate students with financial need. Full-time and part-time students are eligible. Look for a job now!


Work-Study 101

Q: Who can get a federal work-study job?

A: These jobs are reserved for students with financial need. If you receive financial aid, check your award letter. Lots of times colleges meet a student’s financial need through a combination of grants, subsidized loans, and work-study. If you see Federal Work-Study listed in your award letter, you are eligible to seek out one of these jobs.

Q: Will I definitely get a work-study job?

A: No. You need to land a job on your own. If you don’t get a work-study job, you don’t earn the money.

Q: How much can I earn through work-study?

A: Take another look at your financial aid letter. It will list what you can earn from one of these on-campus jobs. Students are usually eligible to earn $2,000 to $5,000 per year, according to a recent article in U.S. News.

Do the math. When applying for a work-study job, make sure to determine how much you’ll earn per hour and how many hours you’ll get. You’ll only earn the full amount of the work-study award if you work enough hours.

The good news is that you’re not limited to only one work-study job. Let’s say you are awarded $3,000 of work-study and you got a job that’s only once a week and doesn’t offer enough hours for you to earn the full amount by the end of the school year. You can look for another job to max out your work-study award. (But check with your financial aid office about this. Some colleges have a policy of allowing only one job at a time.)

Q: Can I earn more than the amount listed on my award letter?

A: Yes, it’s possible! Some campus employers will keep you on the job after your work-study stipend has been depleted if they have another source of money to keep paying you. Ask if this is a possibility when you interview for the job. That said, many campus employers may need to let you go after your work-study stipend runs out. Keep this in mind.

Q: How do I find a job?

A: Act fast! Work-study jobs fill up quickly. And colleges often have deadlines to obtain a job. It’s important to look for a position as soon as possible – even before classes start. You have a far better chance of finding work at the beginning of the semester.

The best place to find work-study positions is through the career website at your college. Ask to see if they offer an email about open positions. Also, there may be remote or off-campus opportunities. Local nonprofit organizations often sign up with colleges to get student help. Ask your careers office or financial aid officer about the best way to get a job.

Q: How much can I work?

A: This is something you should discuss with your campus employer. Work-study is meant to be part-time employment. Schools often have limits on how many hours per week you are allowed to work. There is usually a 20-hour maximum and chances are you’ll max out of your work-study stipend working less than that. Also, your employer will take into account your classes and school priorities when making your work schedule. Schools want you to make academics a priority.

Q: Should I get an off-campus job instead?

A: Great question. Restaurants, stores, local businesses and even babysitting may offer you more hours or more pay. But working on campus is convenient and there are often jobs – like working at the front desk in the library – that permit you to study when things are slow. Also, work-study employment isn’t considered income on the FAFSA. So it won’t reduce your aid in the following year.

Of course, you can have a work-study job and earn additional money with an off-campus job. Just make sure you don’t take on too much that you can’t do your school work.

Q: Will I get work-study again next year?

A: Maybe. Your federal aid can change from year to year, depending on what you report on your FAFSA and what the school includes in your aid package. The federal government recommends that you file your FAFSA as early as possible and make sure to answer on the form that you are interested in Federal Work-Study. Colleges are more likely to offer you this benefit if you indicate your interest in your FAFSA.