Guide To Federal Work-Study Jobs

Written by: Kristyn Pilgrim
Updated: 8/05/20

If you need help paying for college, an often overlooked method to help pay for your tuition is the federal work-study program. Work-study positions allow you to make money while enrolled in college while also getting hands-on training in your preferred field of study.

In this guide, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about federal work-study jobs, explain how you can apply for this type of aid, and answer some of the most frequently asked questions about this program.

What Is Federal Work-Study?

Federal work-study jobs are one option to consider when applying for financial aid. Work-study jobs are federally and/or state-funded work programs that help college students with financial needs make money to help pay for their schooling. 

These work-study positions can be secured in a variety of fields, though students are often encouraged to accept positions related to their field of study, if possible. These jobs often focus on community service and civic work and are available to both undergraduate and graduate students.

Since you’ll be working and attending school at the same time, these work-study positions are part-time only and are often capped at a certain amount.

How to Apply for Federal Work-Study Positions

To apply for available federal (or state) work-study positions, you’ll need to fill out your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Funds for this program are limited, so it’s recommended that you apply as early as possible to be considered.

When filling out your FAFSA, you’ll be asked if you want to be considered for work-study opportunities. If you’re interested in the work-study program, select “Yes.” Indicating you’re interested does not guarantee that you’ll be offered a work-study position. It also does not mean you have to accept a work-study position if it’s offered in your award letter. If your state has its own work-study financial aid program, you’ll also be offered any available awards for the state your school is in.

Once you receive your financial aid award letter, you’ll see if you’ve been accepted into the federal work-study program. If there are no work-study options detailed on your award letter, you might still be eligible for employment at your school. Reach out to your school to get more details on any programs they might offer outside of federal work-study options.

Do All Colleges Offer Federal Work-Study Jobs?

While most colleges and universities offer student employment opportunities with or without work-study options, not all colleges participate in the federal work-study program. Currently, there are approximately 3,400 colleges that participate in this program.

You can check with your school to find out if they currently participate in the federal work-study program and, if not, learn more about any employment opportunities they might offer. Alternatively, if your college does not offer on-campus work-study opportunities, you can still try to secure work-study employment off-campus.

How Much Can I Make Through Work-Study Jobs?

The amount you’re eligible to make through your federal or state work-study program will be detailed on your student aid award letter. If you’re an undergraduate student, you’ll make an hourly wage that’s at least $7.25 (the federal minimum) or higher, depending on the job and your state’s minimum wage. Graduate students can make either an hourly or salaried wage. Regardless, you won’t be able to exceed the amount in your award letter.

For instance, if you’re an undergraduate student and your award letter is for $1,450, and your job pays an hourly wage of $7.25, you won’t be able to exceed 200 hours of work ($7.25 rate x 200 hours = $1,450). Your employer will divide up your hours so as not to exceed your federal work amount.

Your award amount will vary based on your need and other eligible financial aid. In 2019, 14% of students who applied for federal aid accepted work-study positions and received an average of $1,800 in aid.

How to Select a Work-Study Position

If you’re offered a work-study position, it does not necessarily guarantee you a job. It simply means you’re eligible for a work-study position if you’re able to find one.  If your campus offers work-study jobs, you should start by viewing available work-study positions within your school. Many schools have an online portal where you can view these opportunities, but your school’s financial aid department can walk you through your options.

If your school does not offer work-study jobs on campus, you’ll need to look for eligible employment opportunities off campus. Your school may still be able to connect you with programs that are eligible for work-study, like tutoring programs or not-for-profit jobs.

Federal Work-Study FAQs

Now that you understand the basics of work-study positions, we’ll walk you through some commonly asked questions many students have about these programs.

1. Once I receive a work-study award, do I have to reapply?

Since the federal work-study program is a form of financial aid, you’ll need to apply for it every year. This program is reserved for students who demonstrate financial need, and since the funding is limited, the earlier you apply, the higher your chances of receiving the award.

2. How do I get paid?

While grants and loans may go directly to your school to pay for tuition or room-and-board costs, your work-study earnings will go directly to you. Work-study programs are designed to help students with financial need to afford everyday expenses, like meals and transportation, rather than the high costs like tuition.

Since this is a work-study program, your employer (whether that’s the school or an outside company) will be required to pay you directly, unless you request that your funds are direct deposited or directly applied to tuition costs. By law, your employer must pay you at least once a month.

3. Will my work-study salary impact my FAFSA application?

Since your FAFSA award is determined by how much money you (and your parents, if you’re a dependent) make, you might be wondering if your work-study salary will impact your financial aid eligibility.

Luckily, these earnings do not count against you and will be subtracted from your FAFSA calculation each year. When filling out the FAFSA, you’ll be asked if any income earned was through work-study, so make sure you indicate exactly how much was earned through this program when filling out your application.

4. Will my work-study income be taxed?

Yes. Federal work-study wages are taxed by both the federal and state government. However, they’re often exempt from FICA taxes.

5. Can I work at another job while also doing work-study?

Yes, you can work a second job outside of the work-study program without any penalty. You’ll want to be careful not to take on more work than you can handle, however, so that you’re still able to complete your schoolwork. Many studies, including one conducted by the Department of Education, recommend working no more than 15-20 hours per week when you’re in college.

However, if you need to earn more money than you’re making through work-study, you can work as many hours as you’d like outside of the program. However, income earned through non-work-study options can be counted on your FAFSA and could impact your financial aid for the following years.

CollegeFinance.com Can Walk You Through All Your Financial Aid Options

Federal work-study programs are a great way to earn money and gain experience while you’re in college. Although these positions are jobs, they’re still considered financial aid, so you’ll need to fill out your FAFSA to apply for an open position.

Looking for additional resources to help you pay for college? Check out some of our top ways to better afford your tuition below.