The federal work-study program is an opt-in opportunity for students with financial need. Students indicate their interest in participating while filling out the FAFSA form, and may receive a work-study offer from schools as part of their financial aid offer depending on the amount of funding available and the level of student need. Not all schools participate in the work-study program, and students are not required to accept work-study if the offer is made in their award letter.
When deciding if work-study is the right option for you, it’s important to understand the parameters of the program.
- Work-study jobs are part time and may be on or off campus (not every school partners with off-campus businesses)
- The job must explicitly be a part of the work-study program (a part-time position at Starbucks is not eligible)
- Students are responsible for finding, applying for, and securing work-study jobs
- Students may not exceed the pay amount listed in their work-study offer — meaning that your hours for the particular position are limited annually
If this sounds overwhelming, don’t panic. Participating schools often have listings for eligible on campus jobs as well as any off-campus opportunities and your school’s career office can help you with your search. If you accept a work-study offer, understand that positions are limited and in high demand, it is best to start looking for work as soon as possible.
The work-study program is not for everyone, and there are pros and cons to be considered.
- Money in pocket: Unlike many scholarships and grants, work-study does not go directly to your tuition costs. You receive a paycheck and can spend the money as you wish.
- Flexible Schedule: Work-study jobs are for students, and employers tend to be understanding of time-crunches and study needs. Some jobs may even allow you to hit the books during down time.
- Convenience: An on-campus job may alleviate commuting cost and time.
- Area of Study: In some cases, you may be able to find a work-study opportunity in your field of study.
- Pay: Most work-study jobs pay minimum wage — and may even pay federal minimum wage ($7.25) depending on where your school is located. The lower the pay, the more hours you will need to work.
- Pay limit: The money you can earn is limited to the amount listed on your financial aid offer, and rarely exceeds about $1800 for the year. Some students may need to secure an additional job.
- Time: Your time is limited, and your work-study job may impact your ability to focus on your studies.
It’s always a good idea to investigate the work-study opportunities at your school, even if you’re not on the fence about whether to accept the offer. Consider contacting your school’s career office to learn about the average starting pay, availability of opportunities, and when you can begin applying for work-study jobs. If you’re attending school in an unfamiliar city/state, do some research on available job opportunities to see if off-campus employment is a better fit for you.