College  |  May 11, 2020  |  Ashley Boucher

Federal Work Study Eligibility & How to Apply

What you’ll learn
  • Learn the qualifications for work study
  • Learn about the process of applying for a federal work study program

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 you may have thought about finding a part-time job while in college to help pay for it.

But what about work study?

The federal work study program can be a great resource for students looking to cover 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 class schedules, 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 how can a student make it actually happen?

Federal work study eligibility

The work study program is for undergraduate, graduate, and professional students who are enrolled in school at least part-time. Eligibility for the program is based on financial need determined after completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA.) A number of factors are considered, including household income, the size of your family, how many members of your family are enrolled in post-secondary education, among others.

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How to apply for work study

First things first: you have to complete the FAFSA to qualify. This is the only way (I repeat, the only way) to be eligible for work study. Some schools offer work study 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 award or offer letter. This offer letter will typically outline any financial aid you are eligible for, including scholarships, grants, student loans, and work study. If you determine 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 work?

Unlike scholarships and grants, this form of financial aid isn’t actually granted to students at the onset 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. Make finding a work study job a top priority once you’re on campus. Jobs will probably move quickly, and some are likely to be more popular than others.

How much does work study pay?

When you’re considering work study, it’s inevitable that you’d be wondering how much you’ll earn. Students 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 noted in the offer letter (based on your financial need and when you applied) is what you’ll be allocated for the year.

In 2019, 14% of students took advantage of work study, earning an average of $1,800.

How do I get paid?

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 work study paychecks are used is up to the student - but most use them 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 for qualifying students – 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 the first-come first-served form of financial aid.
  • Consider your work study a job a good way to make connections on campus while covering some of your daily living expenses.

Though it probably won’t help meet your tuition costs, it’ll give you good experience without jeopardizing your other on-campus priorities like studying and going to class.

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