College  |  September 20, 2022  |  Ashley Boucher

Federal Work-Study Eligibility and How to Apply

What you’ll learn
  • What are the qualifications for work-study
  • How to apply for a federal work-study program
  • How work-study financial aid operates

If you’re putting together a plan to pay for college, you’ve probably researched scholarships and grants, talked about the potential of federal or private student loans, and thought about finding a part-time job while in college. But don’t overlook the possibility of work-study to help pay for your studies.

What is federal work-study?

The federal work-study program can be a great resource for students looking to cover some college expenses. The program has specific advantages over other part-time jobs, too. For example, students can typically get a job on campus (the commute is great!), work schedules are flexible to fit around classes, jobs can often align with students’ specific interests and skills, and there’s an opportunity to network with faculty, staff, and other people outside of the classroom. Sounds great, right? But you don’t apply like you would for a normal job; you have to meet some requirements to be eligible for federal work-study.

Federal work-study eligibility

To meet federal work-study eligibility, you must be an undergraduate, graduate, or professional student who’s enrolled in school at least part-time. Work-study is actually financial aid from the government, like a grant. Eligibility for the program is based on your financial need. A number of factors are considered, including household income, the size of your family, and how many members of your family are enrolled in post-secondary education, among others.

How do you apply for federal work-study?

The first work-study requirement: To be considered, you have to complete and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). This is the only way (I repeat, the only way) to be eligible for work-study. Some schools offer it on a first-come first-served basis, so file the FAFSA® as soon as possible on or after October 1.

Once you’ve filed the FAFSA® and you’ve been accepted to a college or university, you’ll receive a financial aid offer letter. This typically outlines any financial aid you’re eligible for, including scholarships, grants, student loans…and work-study. If you decide you’d like to accept some or all of the aid, including the work-study, you’ll notify the school of your decision and what portion you’ll be accepting.

How does work-study operate?

Unlike scholarships and grants, this form of financial aid isn’t actually given in one amount to students at the beginning of the semester. This is where the “work” in work-study comes in.

Once you start school, you should connect with your financial aid or college employment offices. They’ll probably have job banks or postings for you to look through. Typical work-study jobs range from working in the school’s library, to assisting professors with research or projects, to working in the dining hall. You may also find some off-campus opportunities through partnerships hosted by the schools.

To maintain your federal work-study eligibility, make finding a work-study job a top priority once you’re on campus. Jobs will probably fill up quickly, and some are likely to be more popular than others. Don’t miss out on this opportunity for financial aid.

How much does work-study pay?

When you’re considering work-study, you want to know how much it’ll pay. You will earn at least the current federal minimum wage, but the number of hours you’re allowed to work, and the dollar amount you’ll bring in, will depend on what’s been outlined in your financial aid offer letter. Whatever was determined and listed in the offer letter (based on your financial need and when you applied) is what you’ll be allocated for wages for the year.

According to How America Pays for College, in the 2021-22 academic year, 20% of students took advantage of work study, earning an average of $1,531.

How do I get paid for work-study?

Work-study paychecks are distributed at least monthly, but sometimes more frequently, depending on the school’s process.

What do work-study funds cover?

How a student uses their work-study paychecks is up to them, but most use the money for daily living expenses and supplies like books, rather than tuition. Why? Because work-study funds come in the form of paychecks (distributed on a weekly, biweekly, or monthly basis as determined by your school) during the semester, while tuition is often due at the start of the semester.

Key takeaways

  • Work-study is a good program if you qualify due to need—and often an important piece of the paying-for-college puzzle.
  • If you’re thinking about applying for work-study, plan ahead: filing the FAFSA® on or close to October 1 may help you get in line for this first-come, first-served form of financial aid.
  • Consider your work-study job a good way to make connections on campus while covering some of your daily living expenses.

Taking part in work-study can give you a good experience without jeopardizing your other on-campus priorities, like studying and going to class. If you’re eligible, take advantage of it!

footnote Sallie Mae does not provide, and these materials are not meant to convey, financial, tax, or legal advice. Consult your own financial advisor, tax advisor, or attorney about your specific circumstances.

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