The 411 on Work-Study

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Filing your FAFSA is essential for you to obtain financial aid that will help you pay for college. As you fill out your FAFSA, you will come across a question about applying for work-study. This question can be difficult to answer if you don’t know what work-study is, or if you can even participate in this program. Well, you’ve come to the right place to get the 411 on the Federal Work-Study program.

Work-study, or Federal Work-Study (FWS), is a government program that allows students in undergraduate and graduate programs to receive a steady income to help them pay for educational expenses. Some schools do not participate in the FWS program. It is important to check with your college/university’s financial aid department to make sure that they offer this to their students. If your school takes part in the FWS program, you can answer “yes” on your FAFSA to receive money for work-study. To further put your doubts to rest, we have the answers to your FWS questions.

Who qualifies for the FWS program?

Any student enrolling in an undergraduate or graduate program could qualify for work-study because it is awarded on a financial-need basis. The government and your university determine your financial need by examining you and your family’s income, and comparing it to what it costs to attend the school. If you are eligible to receive work-study funds, it will appear in your FAFSA award letter. FWS funds are also dispersed on a first-come first-serve basis, making it important to file your FAFSA as soon as possible.

What do you mean by “work-study funds?”

If work-study appears on your award letter, you will see a dollar amount that corresponds with it. That money is not deducted from your tuition bill, nor do you see it in your account right away. As the name would suggest, you must work throughout the semester to earn the funds in the form of a paycheck.

Can you work anywhere as part of the FWS program?

The FWS program was designed to help you pay for school and to give you the opportunity to work with the community or in your field of study. As a result, employers must be part of the FWS program for you to receive your work-study money. Work-study employers include the following:

  • On-Campus Jobs: This will typically mean that you will be working for your school.
  • Off-Campus Jobs: These jobs are usually public agencies and nonprofits.

You can find out which specific work-study jobs are available to you by contacting your school’s financial aid department.

How much and how often do you get paid through the FWS program?

Payment amount and frequency will vary with each employer, but all students working in the FWS program must be paid at least once a month. You will earn at least minimum wage, but you could earn more depending on your job description. Undergraduate students will be paid on an hourly basis. Graduate students can earn either hourly or salaried wages. Your paycheck will be administered to your school for you to collect. Many schools now allow students to receive their wages via direct deposit should they elect to do so.

Do you have to use the FWS program if it appears on your FAFSA award letter?

In short, no you do not. When FWS appears on your award letter, you have the option to accept or decline those funds. If you either decide not to work at all or you get a job with a non-participating employer. In those cases, all you have to do is let your school’s financial aid department know that you are declining the award. Regardless of your decision, contact them as soon as possible so that you do not miss any deadlines that your school may have in place. Even though you choose not use your work-study award, you’ve at least given yourself that option (and a bit more time to think about it) by selecting “yes” on your FAFSA application.

What else should you know about the FWS program?

One of the great things about the FWS program is that the employer must be flexible with your academic schedule. You will also likely work on a part-time basis because your studies come first, and you can’t accumulate more income than what the FWS program has given to you. To work for a FWS employer, you will likely need to apply and interview for the position. When you file your FAFSA for the following year, you will include what you have earned through the FWS program during the previous year. You may also need to file a tax return depending on how much money you are awarded and how much of it you actually earned.

College can be expensive, and attending classes can take up too much of your time for a regular job. The Federal Work-Study program can help you pay for your education without putting a strain on your education.

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Scott Hawksworth

Scott Hawksworth is YesCollege.com's founder and editor. He writes with a focus on the challenges faced by students entering higher education, with an eye to making our readers aware of the pitfalls and opportunities that await all would-be graduates. Scott has a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration from The Ohio State University.