What Is a Work Study Program and How Does It Work?

Article Summary:

Federal work-study helps college students with financial needs get part-time jobs. Work-study can help them earn money, gain related experience, and still go to school. You can apply for work-study on your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).

Many students can only pursue the degree or training programs they choose by taking out student loans. These loans can help cover expenses, but sometimes you may need a little extra income coming your way. This is when you should look into federal work-study jobs.

Work-study is for students with financial aid packages who need part-time jobs. Full-time and part-time students seeking any degree or certificate can apply for work-study. Not everyone who applies gets awarded work-study, but it can be a valuable experience for those who do. It can get you valuable workplace experience, and it can help you set aside the money you may need to pay off student loan debt in the future.

Keep reading to learn more about the federal work-study program, if you’re eligible, how to apply, and more.

What is work-study?

Work-study is a federal financial aid program that helps college students get part-time work. Work-study positions are a great option for students with financial need, who want to build their résumés, and who want jobs that works with their class schedules. You can apply for the work-study program if you’re an undergraduate student, graduate student, or professional student.

Work-study jobs are not guaranteed throughout your time at university, however. The number of work-study jobs that a university gives in a year depends on how much funding it receives. So, while you could be part of a work-study program your first year, that may not continue into the next.

Jobs included in work-study

The federal work-study program seeks to provide students with jobs related to their courses of study. Federal work-study jobs can be both on-campus and off-campus. Off-campus positions are usually with private nonprofit organizations.
Here are some common work-study jobs you could get, depending on your course of study:

  • Administrative duties
  • Working in a library or dining hall
  • Front desk duties
  • Research assistantships

Benefits of work-study jobs

  • Build work experience for your résumé
  • Flexible hours that work with your class schedule
  • Income does not count against your federal student aid (FAFSA) eligibility
  • Available to both full-time and part-time students
  • Available for professional, undergraduate, and graduate students

Eligibility requirements

To receive work-study, you must be pursuing a degree or certificate through higher education (professional, undergraduate, and graduate students). Whether you are awarded work-study or not will depend on household income, family size, and more.

Pro tip: If you want a flexible work schedule and do not receive a work-study award, look at doing a side hustle. These jobs are great because you can make your own schedule and earn some cash. Check out SuperMoney’s reviews and comparisons of side jobs.

The hows of work-study

Let’s review the hows of work-study: how to apply for work-study, how to find a work-study position, and how much money you can make.

How to apply

To apply for the federal work-study program, you need to complete the federal student aid application (FAFSA) first. Indicate that you want a work-study job when the form asks. After submitting your FAFSA application, the school will let you know how much money you’re eligible for that year, and if you were accepted into the work-study program.

Any questions you have regarding how to apply for the federal work-study program can be answered at your school’s financial aid office.

How to find a work-study job

If you’re offered and accept work-study aid, it is your responsibility to find a job. You will likely still have to find, apply, and interview for positions just like with any other job. Very few schools match a student to a position.

Work-study jobs can be found on your university’s website or through the financial aid office.

How much can I earn?

As with every position, the pay of the job depends on the skills required and level of responsibility. But you can always expect work-study pay to be at least the current federal minimum wage. Jobs like lab and research assistance tend to pay more than front desk or library positions.

Work-study earnings also depend on when you apply, what your financial need is, and how much funding your school has.

Drawbacks of work-study jobs

While work-study positions offer many benefits, there are a few caveats that you should be aware of before committing.

First, you can’t work as many hours as you want, and your hours may vary each week.

Second, your pay could vary. What you get paid will depend on the minimum wage in your state and your school’s policies. It may not be as high paying as you’d like. Also, remember that work-study jobs are part-time positions. If you’re interested in full-time positions, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

Third, work-study jobs at your university could be limited. On-campus jobs are usually given to students both in and not in the federal work-study program, so fellow work-study students will not be your only competition for open jobs. Some of your work-study options may be off-campus, meaning you might have to commute.

Lastly, keep in mind that being awarded work-study does not guarantee you a job. You will still have to search, apply, and interview for a position — just as you would to land any other job.

Alternatives to work-study

Students who need funds beyond what they get through federal grants and loans have options, even if they can’t land a work-study position, or if work-study alone isn’t enough to make ends meet. These include private student loans, personal loans for students, and student credit cards.


Is it worth it to do work-study?

Work-study is great for those who need extra financial aid and flexibility with a job and their class schedule. Just remember that work-study jobs could be limited and are not guaranteed each year.

What is the difference between work-study and a regular job?

Not everyone gets a work-study job, as they are needs-based. However, anybody can apply for a regular part-time job. A work-study job is usually more short-term than a regular part-time job.

What is the importance of work-study?

Work-study is important for students who need extra financial support through a flexible, part-time job. A work-study job can provide students with financial aid while also building their résumés and experience.

Key takeaways

  • Work-study is a program that helps students who need financial aid get flexible, part-time jobs.
  • Federal work-study can help students earn money, build their résumés, and have jobs that work with their class schedules.
  • You can apply for the work-study program when submitting your FAFSA application.
  • If you are awarded federal work-study, you will still have to search for and apply for a job on your own.

Need FAFSA help?

The first step to finding the right work-study job is to submit your FAFSA. But completing complex government forms isn’t always easy, and filling out your FAFSA application could seem overwhelming. There’s no need to get stressed, though, because we’re here to help. Read SuperMoney’s tips and steps to filling out your FAFSA application this year. This article will help you make sure you complete your application correctly and on time while avoiding common mistakes.

View Article Sources
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  2. Federal Campus-Based Programs Data Book 2019— U.S. Department of Education
  3. Federal Work Study Eligibility & How to Apply — SallieMae
  4. Federal Work-Study jobs help students earn money to pay for college or career school. — Federal Student Aid
  5. Indeed Career Guide — Indeed
  6. 11 Steps to Filling out the New Fafsa Form — SuperMoney
  7. Best Personal Loans for Students — SuperMoney
  8. Best Student Loan Debt Settlement Companies — SuperMoney
  9. The Average Pharmacist Student Loan Debt…Will Surprise You — SuperMoney
  10. Ultimate Guide to Student Debt Relief — SuperMoney
  11. The Ultimate Guide to Student Loan Refinancing — SuperMoney