Jon O'Donnell Updated on August 23, 2017

Working during college can be challenging for many reasons. It’s hard enough to know where to look for a job — how are you supposed to find the time to manage work-work on top of all of your schoolwork?

Federal Work-Study isn’t often at the top of a student’s radar, but it deserves to be. The Federal Work Study program collaborates with universities across the nation to employ students in part-time work. Students who qualify for work-study often gain valuable experience in a relevant academic area and earn decent pay while doing it.

Sound appealing? Here’s what you need to know to find out if work-study is a good fit for you.

1.  Federal Work-Study is for students with financial need

When you fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (better known as the FAFSA), your demonstrated financial aid will determine whether or not you’re eligible to earn money through work-study at your school.

If you have any interest in doing work-study while you’re in school, make sure that you indicate your interest when you fill out the FAFSA. There is a specific question that asks if you’d like to be considered for work-study.

You can select yes now and choose to decline work-study later on if you decide it’s not the right fit for you.

2.  Just because you qualify for a job through work-study doesn't mean that you'll get one

Once you’ve been offered a Federal Work-Study award, it’s up to you to find an available position through your school and apply for it, just as you would for any other job.

Most schools have student employment offices that you can bring your schedules, interests, and questions to. They will likely be able to tell you what positions are open and how to apply.

3.  Work-study students are sometimes given hiring priority

While all students have the opportunity to earn money through on-campus jobs, students in the work-study program often have an advantage in the hiring process.

When you receive a Federal Work-Study award, that award is dependent upon your ability to find employment from your school and to work the hours necessary to earn your award. As such, your school may give you priority for a position over someone who doesn’t need the job in order to receive federal aid.

It’s also worth considering that hiring students through work-study is cost-efficient for your school. Half of the salary of work-study employees is paid for by the federal government, making work-study employees a cheaper (and likely more appealing) option.

4.  Not all work-study jobs are located on your college campus

Although most jobs will involve working directly with students, faculty, or staff on-campus, some schools create work-study positions that foster connections with the broader community.

This might include something like reading to children at a nearby library, or even a position with a local for-profit company that could foster growth in an academic area.

If you’re looking for an opportunity to get away from campus while getting your work-study hours in, talk to a professor or administrator in your department to see if they can help you work something out.

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5.  Your weekly hours and pay can vary through work-study, but they are usually capped

Even though they’re all sponsored through the same program, not all work-study jobs pay students the same rates.

All schools are required to pay their students at least the federal minimum wage for their hours worked. However, many schools adopt a tiered system so more advanced positions (such as tutoring or teaching study sessions) pay more than entry level work (i.e., working the front desk at a library).

Both undergraduate and graduate students may earn hourly wages, but graduate students sometimes have the option of working a salaried position through work-study.

Your school sets a fixed number of hours you can work per week based on your financial need and your academic schedule. The total number of hours you work each year can not exceed your Federal Work-Study award.

Generally, most schools allow students to work a maximum of 20 hours per week during the school year, whether they are being paid through work-study or not.

6.  Income from work-study will not reduce your federal financial aid

Perhaps the biggest draw of Federal Work-Study is that students will not lose federal funding for the next year because of the money they’ve earned through work-study.

What does that mean, exactly? If students who aren’t in work-study make more than $6,420 in the 2017-2018 school year, they will receive less Pell Grant money.

Work-study earnings are exempt from this financial aid calculation, allowing students to earn money without increasing their tuition costs.

The work-study program can be a unique opportunity to earn money while in school. It’s ultimately up to you to decide if work-study is the best fit for your financial situation. No matter what you choose, remember to aim for a healthy balance between school, work, and life — your brain will thank you for it.

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