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  • The Federal Work-Study Program allows students to earn money to put toward academic expenses.
  • Work-study jobs are typically related to your field or study.
  • You can apply by completing the FAFSA®. It’s best to do this sooner rather than later since work-study spots may be limited.

Many students work during college, but balancing your job and your class schedule can be tricky. Students who earn money through the Federal Work-Study Program may find that their jobs are conveniently located and accommodating of their academic demands. Whether they’re serving their school community by helping out at the library or assisting a professor with important research, these students are gaining valuable experiences to put on their résumés.

What is the Federal Work-Study Program?

When you get your financial aid award letter, it may show that you’re eligible to earn money through the Federal Work-Study Program. This form of need-based financial aid allows you to earn money through a part-time job to help pay for academic expenses. The job is often related to your studies or in service of the community. About 10% of full-time undergraduate students participate in the Federal Work-Study Program each year, according to the Education Data Initiative.

If you get a work-study job, you’ll earn at least minimum wage, though the rate may vary depending on the job itself. Undergraduates are always paid by the hour at work-study jobs, but graduate students can be paid either hourly or by salary. Average earnings work out to roughly $1,850 per academic year, according to the Education Data Initiative

Benefits of the Federal Work-Study Program

Here are some important details that could make work-study worthwhile.

1. You keep what you earn

While you have to pay student loans back with interest, work-study earnings are yours to keep. How you spend your earnings is up to you and will depend on your individual situation. Work-study funds are typically used for school supplies, transportation, food, and other living expenses.

2. Your paycheck won't affect financial aid eligibility

Like most financial aid, work-study awards are only applicable for the current school year, which means you'll have to fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) every year you attend college. But unlike other forms of income, your work-study job won't affect financial aid eligibility. You'll still have to report your work-study earnings on the FAFSA, but they aren’t counted in the calculation that determines your award.

3. Work-study jobs are convenient

Most work-study jobs are located on campus, but there are also some off-campus opportunities. Employers are approved by the school's financial aid office and are generally private or non-profit companies or public agencies where work performed is in the public interest. Regardless of where your job is located, you can usually schedule your work hours around your academic schedule.

4. The reward can be more than just financial

A work-study job in your academic field can offer valuable experience that may guide your future career choices. Even if the work is not directly related to your area of study, it can open doors to new interests, build unique skill sets, and develop important soft skills you’ll need down the road. 

5. It’s a chance to expand your network

If you’re working on campus, you may have the chance to work closely with professors and faculty. Even off-campus work-study jobs can help build your professional network. It can be a great opportunity to prove your work ethic and demonstrate your skills. These relationships can be valuable when you eventually need letters of recommendation. You might also find a mentor out of the experience.

Drawbacks of the Federal Work-Study Program

Like any job, balancing work-study and school may feel tricky, especially if you’re in a demanding academic program. It’s also worth noting that you can only earn up to the amount of the work-study award listed in your award letter. This amount will depend on your level of financial need, when you apply, and your school’s funding level.

How to apply for the Federal Work-Study Program

Work-study may not be available at every school, so check with your school's financial aid office to see if they participate. When you fill out the FAFSA, be sure to select "Yes" where the application asks if you're interested in work-study. It’s also wise to complete the FAFSA early since funds for this program may be limited. Keep in mind that applying for work-study does not guarantee a job or a spot in the program.

How to find work-study jobs

Work-study jobs aren’t guaranteed, and it’s ultimately up to you to find a job, apply, and interview—and the sooner you do this, the better. Academic advisors and professors can be great resources for finding work-study jobs. You can also check with your school’s career services center for an online job board or information about work-study job fairs. Many schools offer convenient ways to find jobs that are accommodating to class schedules.

Examples of work-study jobs

There are lots of different work-study jobs out there. You might work as a tutor, researcher, or administrative assistant. Your role may be:

  • On campus working for your school
  • Off campus working with a public agency or nonprofit organization
  • With a private for-profit employer that has an agreement with your school

The Federal Work-Study Program can offer a great way to earn money and gain work experience. Applying for it through the FAFSA is simple—and could lead to a great opportunity.

FAFSA® is a registered trademark of the US Department of Education and is not affiliated with Discover® Student Loans.

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