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What is a Work Study Program?

By Felicia Dye
Updated May 17, 2024
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When people think of financial aid, they usually think of funds provided in the form of grants or loans. With these types of financial aid, a student is provided with money and either is not asked for anything in return or is given the opportunity to postpone the return until a later date. A work study program is also considered financial aid, but it requires a student work to receive the funds.

A work study program should not be confused with a job placement program. These programs are drastically different. A job placement program normally refers to a service provided once a person has finished her education. This program helps her begin a career in her field. A work study program, on the contrary, is a service that helps a person earn money for expenses while she is studying.

Although it is structured to some degree, a work study program does not automatically allocate the funds earned for any specific type of expenses. When a person earns money through a work study program, she is able to use those funds as she sees fit. Work study funds are wages and, therefore, are considered taxable income.

Generally, wages available to participants of a work study program are paid at an hourly rate. This rate is not set by the work study program. It varies depending upon the position worked and the employer a participant works for.

Work study programs are available for graduate and undergraduate students. It is not, however, available to all students. If a person wants to participate in such a program, she must apply and be deemed eligible. Eligibility is usually determined by calculating the cost of a person’s education and then deducting various sources of income and assessing whether or not a need for assistance remains.

A benefit of the work study program is that the wages earned through it are not calculated for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This is important because the FAFSA is used to determine a student’s EC, or expected contribution. The EC is used to determine a student’s need for financial aid. This need can affect funds offered by local, state, or federal programs and funds offered through the educational facility’s financial aid programs.

A common misconception about work study is that it limits a participant to working on campus. It is true that educational institutions and their on-campus affiliates generally provide a large portion of the jobs available through such programs. However, participants are eligible for any jobs which the program has approved. In many cases, these are located off-campus and provided by businesses not directly affiliated with the educational facility. The types of jobs available through work study can greatly vary; when possible participants may be assigned jobs that relate to their fields of study.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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