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What is Work-Study?

Tiffany Manley
Tiffany Manley

Many students attending college have a need for some sort of financial aid, whether it is in the form of scholarships, loans or work-study. Work-study is a program that allows a student to work while earning money for college. The two forms of work-study in the United States, federal and non-federal, have specific requirements that must be met and guidelines that must be followed, so it is important that a school’s financial aid representative is consulted to ensure proper adherence.

Federal work-study is included in a student’s basic financial aid package, which might also include loans and scholarships. When filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in the U.S. or a similar form in another country, a student should indicate that he or she is interested in a work-study program. The school where the student is enrolled or will be enrolled will then evaluate the financial aid application, and if it is determined that the student qualifies for work-study, an assignment will be made. All of the pertinent information is sent to the student in the form of an award letter.

Work-study programs help many students reach graduation.
Work-study programs help many students reach graduation.

Non-federal work-study operates much like its federal counterpart, but it is not based on financial need. This form of work-study generally is in the form of campus jobs that relate to the student’s field of study. The fact that the majority of these positions are on campus is a draw for many students, because these employers might be more willing to work around school schedules than employers located off the campus.

Compensation for these programs is always at least the federal minimum wage. It counts as taxable income and for non-federal programs, the pay also is considered when financial need is determined. For the federal program, a student must earn up to, but not more than, his or her award amount. Employers use this and the hourly rate that a student is to be paid to determine the number of hours per week that he or she will work. For the non-federal program, a student has the freedom to work the hours he or she wants, but he or she also should keep in mind that coursework should come first.

Work-study is one of several options available to students to pay for higher education. The money might be used for tuition, books, fees or living expenses. An added benefit of the program is that a student generally will gain experience working in the field that he or she is studying. In addition, a student might make valuable contacts in the career field of his or her choice.

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Discussion Comments


My parents didn't have much money, so when I went to college I took advantage of every program I could. My work study job was in the cafeteria. While this was not a glamorous job, I was thankful to have the extra money to help me get through school.

I did not have a car while I was in college, so this was a great way to earn some money and not have to worry about how I was going to get to work and back.

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    • Work-study programs help many students reach graduation.
      By: pixelrobot
      Work-study programs help many students reach graduation.