What Is A Work Study Program In College?

Jon O'Donnell Updated on May 3, 2017

If you’re thinking about working your way through college, but are not sure where to start looking, consider looking into federal work study programs while you’re attending college. Here’s what you need to know about how to apply, what kind of job you can get, and how much you’ll get paid.

What is a federal work study?

The federal work study program is a federally-funded program that helps students get part-time jobs on- or off-campus to help pay for college. It’s helpful for students to decrease student loan borrowing. It can also help students earn the money they need to pay for college beyond what they have already received in student loans, grants or scholarships.  

Who is eligible for work study?

Part-time or full-time undergraduate and graduate students are eligible to participate in the federal work study program. As long as you have some level of financial need based on information you filled out on the Free Application for Financial Aid, you qualify.

How do I apply for work study?

Work study is awarded based on financial need via the FAFSA as part of a student financial aid package. Your financial aid letter from the schools you applied to will included the grants, scholarships, student loan amounts, and work study amounts you were awarded. The dollar amount awarded is based on the maximum the school has deemed available to you, as long as your total award doesn’t exceed the cost of attendance, the total amount it costs including room, board, tuition, books, etc. to attend that college. The earlier you apply, the more likely you are to receive work study funds because each school has a maximum total for all students.

What kind of jobs are available through a federal work study program?

Typical on-campus work-study jobs include working in the school library or bookstore, serving meals in the dining hall, and assisting with college events. Off-campus work study usually benefits the public in some way and relates to your course of study, if possible. The further you are along in your education and experience in your field, the more likely you are to get a job related to your field of study. Applying early also helps your chances of landing one of these positions.

How does a student get assigned to a job?

Once you start school, you'll find your work-study job through job banks or postings by the financial aid or college employment offices. Always contact your financial aid office as early as possible.

How much will I earn?

Your financial need determines the amount of work-study you are eligible for, as well as if  you are not allowed to earn more than the amount specified in your award letter. Your work-study earnings also depend on the type of work you'll be doing, the amount of money remaining in the college's work-study fund, your experience or skill level, and when you apply (there may be a deadline). Your salary is always at least as high as the federal minimum wage.

How will I be paid?

Your school must pay you at least once a month by check or you can request that funds be transferred to your bank account or to your school account to pay for your education-related institutional charges such as tuition, fees, and room and board.

Will my work study income be taxable?

If a student earns enough income to file a tax return, it must be included as taxable income for federal and state purposes.  


Federal work study is a great way to find a job to help pay for college. But you still need to be stay in contact  with your school’s financial aid office to get matched with the job you want and to make sure you meet deadlines.

Want to take your search for college funding one step further? Apply for the Nitro Scholarship and read more about how to fill in last-minute tuition gaps.

Published in: Private Student Loans

About the Author
Jon O'Donnell

Jon O'Donnell is a staff writer and marketer who is passionate about bringing transparency to the student loan process. Jon has a long history of connecting people with educational opportunities to help them improve their careers and their personal finances. When Jon isn't informing people about how to make smart financial decisions, you can probably find him in the kitchen attempting to cook like the Iron Chef he wishes he was. Read more by Jon O'Donnell

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