Federal work-study is a program that provides part-time jobs for college students with financial need. If you qualify for a federal work-study award, you can work up to 20 hours a week, usually in a position that focuses on community service or work related to your major. It's available to part-time or full-time students at any level, whether undergraduate, graduate or professional track.
Federal work-study jobs might be on campus, or they might be with organizations in the broader community. Pay for work-study varies based on the job, but it will never be less than the minimum wage required by your state.
Why should I do work-study?
There are many great reasons to participate in federal work-study, beyond the financial help it provides. Work-study programs provide a strong opportunity to learn about the world of work; if you have a position that is related to your field of academic study, all the better. This can give you a glimpse into what your future jobs in that field might entail, and can help you decide if that's really what you want to do.
For example, let's say you're going into a financial field. Your first work-study program job is in the financial aid office at your college. After a year in the job, you realize it really doesn't thrill you as much as you had hoped. So you move to a position with a local non-profit that allows you to use your accounting chops in a whole different way. And you love it! Your experiences in federal work-study provided you with the knowledge you needed to forge the career path that's right for you.
Along the way, you will have the opportunity to network with professionals who could one day become your supervisors or colleagues. Networking while in college is extremely valuable, especially if those contacts are in your chosen field of study.
In addition to these benefits, remember that federal work-study is just that: It's work while you study. The limit of 20 hours per week helps ensure you have plenty of time to keep your grades up. The employer who participates in federal work-study should understand that your studies must come first, and thus shouldn't push you to work more than you can handle. That's a perfect way to help ensure your best efforts go to your education.
How do I begin a work-study program?
Your college or university will have specific instructions for you regarding the work-study program. However, there are some general points to keep in mind.
- Request work-study early. Since work-study is such a great program, it's in high demand — and that means that there are limited opportunities for work-study available. Make it clear from the very start that you are interested by saying so on the FAFSA. Remember that work-study awards are based on available funding and go to those who have the greatest financial need.
- Work hard to find a position. Though some work-study positions are available on campus, many schools have agreements with local organizations and non-profits that can help you fulfill your work-study commitment. But since these jobs can be highly competitive, applying early and making a great first impression matters.
- Apply every year. Work-study is not guaranteed year-to-year. You will need to express your interest and go after the award every year while you are in college. Check with the student employment office — or the admissions and registrar offices where appropriate — to ensure you are filling out the proper paperwork and meeting all school deadlines.
- Plan your time wisely. Keeping your federal work-study award depends greatly upon your academic success. If your grades are slipping, it's possible you will not receive work-study opportunities during the following year; your college will likely prioritize freeing up your time for study. Therefore, plan out your schedule to ensure you can complete your work and hit the books, too.
If you're interested in work-study, get started by speaking to your college about potential opportunities available on campus. Remember that not all colleges participate in work-study, and those that do might have very limited positions available. That's just another reason why filling out the FAFSA and taking care of other financial issues early, well before the school years begins, is always in your best interest!