What Is Work Study: A Comprehensive Guide

Financial Aid programs play a key role for students who need to attend college but can’t afford it on their own.

In the United States, through the U.S. Department of Education, the federal government provides the largest financial support to students in colleges.

Similarly, other organizations and entities such as state governments, private organizations, educational institutions, and banks provide financial aid to students via scholarships, grants, and loans.

One of the means through which a student can obtain financial aid is by participating in federal work-study Programs (FWS). With the programs, students have the opportunity to work part-time, making enough money to pay for education expenses.

Furthermore, students generally have an edge when they participate in work-study. You do not have to repay the funds at a later date.

Also, you have the opportunity to gain early first-hand professional experience. You can equally participate in other financial aid packages to support your education.

This article explores the concept of work study and the opportunities it gives a student; who can apply, the application process, available jobs, how much you can earn, its benefits, drawbacks, and much more.

What is Federal Work Study

Federal work study (FWS) is a program offered by the federal government via the Department of Education to undergraduate and graduate students who need part-time jobs to pay for their school expenses.

The funding program enables students to work part-time, and earn at least the country’s minimum wage, to help them settle their education bills.

In fact, it’s easy to think of it as a typical job; you earn a predetermined wage as you work part-time. However, unlike regular jobs, there’s a limit to the amount you can earn and the number of hours you can work a session or semester, so jobs do not affect your study program.

Also, unlike regular jobs, wages earned from here do not attract FICA; thus, you do not pay social security and medical taxes.

Furthermore, wages are paid either bi-weekly or monthly directly to the student’s account and not to the student’s university balance.

Lastly, it is important to know that it is a flexible financial aid tool; students with FWS on their financial assistance package can also apply for other means of financial aid.

Who Can Apply for Federal Work Study?

Students who can apply for FWS are those with financial needs. Only then can you submit your application to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Although all students can indicate interest in FAFSA, only students with financial needs get approval from FWS.

In addition, it is important to note that approval for the FWS package is on a first-come-first-served basis.

As such, students who need financial assistance are to indicate interest in FAFSA as early as possible. Then you can proceed to apply for FWS if you meet eligibility requirements as per financial needs.

Lastly, students must understand that the FWS program is unavailable in some schools. Thus, they must consult the school’s financial aid or student affairs offices before submitting their application.

Process of Application for Federal Work Study

The application process starts from the student’s country’s Federal Student Aid (FSA) website; you’ll need to check in with the relevant federal government parastatal in your country.

However, you must have the necessary documents gathered first before anything else. Some of these documents generally include; a record of parent’s or guardian’s finances, student’s bank statements, federal income tax returns, and documents for any untaxed income.

Next, you are to log in to the FSA website. Afterward, you can begin the application process by filling out the FAFSA form for the upcoming session. With all the necessary documents ready, it typically takes less than an hour to complete the form, but the registration phase is a maximum of 45 days.

Subsequently, you will need to indicate interest by clicking the selection “Yes.” This will validate your consideration. After that, you will need to send a copy of the FAFSA to the study institution, provided they offer the FWS program.

Finally, answering some demographic questions, providing relevant financial documents, and students’ signatures are necessary to submit the application.

In addition, because a student’s eligibility for work study is based on financial needs, you need to resubmit the FAFSA each year.

Jobs Available in Federal Work Study

Federal work study programs typically prioritize employment in civic duty and jobs related to the course of study when available.

For a more precise understanding, here are some of the on-campus job titles available for FWS students at the University of Georgia; customer service, office support, laboratory support, record management, content development, community service, tutoring, etc.

Also, some off-campus jobs at the University of Georgia include; Clarke Mentors, Athens Tutorial Program, Boys & Girls Club, etc.

Depending on your choice, working on campus typically means working for the school/institution of study.

On the other hand, working off-campus means working for a nonprofit organization or a public agency. Whichever the case, the work must be in the public’s interest.

Meanwhile, students who need financial assistance should apply early because work study jobs are usually limited.

How Much is Earned & Paid in Federal Work Study Jobs?

Students granted work study jobs get at least the federal minimum wage. However, the calculation of actual earnings depends on the level of skill required and the number of work hours weekly.

The level of financial support needed and the date of application also plays a role in earnings as there’s usually a limit to funds in every institution.

Furthermore, undergraduates can earn hourly wages only, but graduates can choose between hourly wages or salary.

Also, you have a cap on the hours or amount you can earn in total per semester. Again, the institution or private employer must assign work hours to students due to the limited availability of funds and avoid a clash with the class schedule.

Benefits of Work study Jobs

Without question, the federal work study program offers many benefits to students and society. However, in this article, we will focus on just a few of them;

1. It helps pay for the cost of education

However, work study jobs can help students pay for all educational expenses in any session, no matter how low the wages are. This is possible because all work study jobs are guaranteed minimum wage, usually enough to handle school expenses over time.

2. Work hours don’t clash with the school schedule

Work study jobs are always part-time, and the work hours schedule is structured not to affect the student’s school curriculum. This way, students can make the most out of their lecture hours and still work.

3. Work study jobs can be related to your course of study

A student has the opportunity to gain first-hand experience when the job is in line with their course of study. This can further improve their resume after graduation.

4. It helps teach the student proper money management

Earnings from work study jobs are paid directly to the student’s account.

The steady but limited flow of income will ultimately require the student to develop a sound money management system that ensures the settlement of all education expenses. If needed, some miscellaneous funds are reserved.

5. It helps the student build their network of professionals

With work study, students get the chance to meet and connect with professionals across multiple occupations.

Drawbacks of Work study Jobs

True to form, there’s always a negative side to every favorable situation. No matter how insignificant these drawbacks are, ignoring them doesn’t make them disappear.

1. Limited funds

Like all financial aid, there’s a cap on the number of funds dispensable through work study jobs. As such, it’s run on a first-come-first-serve basis, so, qualification is not enough to get approval.

2. It may be counterproductive for the student

While it may be true that work study jobs do not clash with the class schedule, some students may find maintaining the full course load for the session challenging.

3. Not enough to live on

Despite its earnings being sufficient to handle school expenses, it may not be enough for the student to live independently. Moreover, there’s a cap on the amount of earnings a student can have, so there’s no alternative to working overtime.

Interesting Facts about Federal Work Study Jobs

1. The funds are not guaranteed every year

Firstly, the institution considers multiple factors before approving a student for work study jobs.

These factors include the parent/guardian’s income at the time of application, the level of financial need of the student, how much funds the student got the previous year, and the student’s acceptance status of the last award.

For further clarification, students are to contact their school for specific criteria used in awarding funds to the institution.

Although, it’s essential to keep in mind that application is always on a first-come-first-serve basis, so early application gives the student a better chance of getting approved.

2. The funds do not directly pay your school expenses

As said earlier, earnings from work study jobs get paid as regular part-time jobs, directly to the student’s account. Students receive paychecks directly according to predetermined earnings awarded by the school.

Although the earnings are usually enough to cater to most school expenses, their function is to assist students’ day-to-day expenses.

3. The funds approved for each student may vary

Work study funds approved for students can go according to qualifications and responsibilities. As a result, the payment received per hour, or as salary, depends on the nature of their job and their financial needs.

4. Getting a federal work study does not guarantee a work study job

Although acceptance of federal work study funds is the first step in getting a work study job, it does not guarantee a student any job.

While some schools, after approval, will give a job on a handshake, most will require students to find and apply for jobs by themselves.


How is federal work study awarded?

The first is to go to your country’s FSA website and fill out the FAFSA form.

Then you apply for work study via the university you currently attend. It is important to note that you must ensure your university offers the work study program before submitting your application.

How do you know when you have been approved for federal work study?

All approved students will receive an email notification from the financial aid office of their university. After that, they will need to go to the financial assistance office to accept and pick up their award slip.

Then, they can begin to find work study jobs on or off-campus. The award slip contains the maximum amount the student can earn in a given session and is attached to the hiring documents.

Is approval for federal work study funds transferable?

No, funds awarded via federal work study are not transferable. Each student must apply individually, and the application is on a first-come-first-serve basis.

Can you apply for the same work study job each year?

Yes, you can apply and work in the same job as previous years, provided there is a vacancy, and they get approval for FWS.


Federal work study is one of the four primary sources of financial aid for students having problems affording their school expenses. It is a program set up by the federal government through the Department of Financial Aid in universities to assist students with day-to-day survival.

However, being a program with limited funds, you should indicate interest and submit your applications early. Also, the financial aid department of universities operates a first-come-first-serve model, therefore, there is serious competition for getting work study funds.

But, if you are a student that believes your financial needs satisfy the requirements for eligibility, you should give it a try and participate in the program.

Lastly, you may check the article on what is financial aid to get more knowledge on other educational funding for students.

Thanks for reading.