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What is Work-Study in College and How Does it Work?

Female student working as a barista as part of her work-study

Want to work while you're in college to help pay expenses? A job from the federal work-study program helps you do just that.

Federal work-study is a form of financial aid that offers you a part-time job, on or off campus. The smooth hiring process and flexible hours make a work-study job desirable to many students. Plus, you don’t have to “pay back” work-study earnings—they do not add to your student debt.

How to Get Work-Study in College

You become eligible for work-study just like you do for all other forms of financial aid: by filling out and submitting a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. The college awards you work-study as part of your financial aid package. Once you start school, you'll find your work-study job through job banks or postings by the financial aid or college employment offices. In most cases, you will have the opportunity to interview with potential work-study employers. In the end, whether or not you are hired is up to the employer.

Work-Study Jobs vs. Regular Employment

The answer is simple. With a regular job, the government will reduce your financial aid eligibility by 50 percent of your earnings over a certain amount. Income from a work-study job does not reduce your financial aid eligibility. And, with work-study, employers are required to consider your class schedule when assigning work hours, whereas regular employers are not.

What Are Typical Work-Study Jobs?

Typical on-campus work-study jobs include working in the library or bookstore, serving in the dining hall, and assisting with college events. Off-campus work-study usually benefits the public in some way and relates to your course of study whenever possible. No matter what kind of job you get, be realistic when working out your schedule and allow yourself time not only for study but also for recreational and leisure activities.

How Much Does Work-Study Pay?

Your financial need determines the amount of work-study you are eligible for, and you can't earn more than the amount specified in your award letter. Your work-study earnings also depend on the type of work you'll be doing, the amount of money remaining in the college's work-study fund, your experience or skill level, and when you apply (there may be a deadline). Your salary is always at least as high as the federal minimum wage.

How is Work-Study Salary Paid?

Undergraduate students on work-study are paid by the hour and must be paid at least once a month. You can request that your college send your paycheck directly to you or ask them to deduct your payment from your college bill.

Even though the federal work-study program is a form of financial aid, it can be much more. Your work-study job can enrich your college experience especially if your work-study job is related to your major. In addition to paying for college, work-study can introduce you to new people and experiences beyond your own circle.

Visit the U.S. Department of Education for more information about getting a work-study job in college.

What's Next?

Learn about the other forms of financial aid that may appear in your award letter.

Find out how to apply for work-study in How to Apply for Financial Aid.

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