When you’re pursuing college financial aid, you’ll hear a lot about college loans, scholarships and grants you can get to pay for a college degree. But you may not realize there’s another option: work-study.
The US government created the Federal Work-Study (FWS) Program to provide students with a way to work part-time during school to pay for college expenses. More than 3,400 colleges and universities participate in the FWS program as a way to help students fund their college education.
If you think you can handle a job without it negatively impacting your college program, consider FWS. In addition to earning money for your education and reducing the amount of college aid you’ll have to pay back, you’ll learn valuable skills for your degree and future career.
What is the Federal Work-Study (FWS) Program?
This federal aid program allows students to work part-time to earn college money while pursuing their degree. Both full-time and part-time students are eligible to receive a FWS assignment.
In addition to choosing whether to participate in the FWS program, schools also choose how to administer the job assignments. Generally, a college or university will encourage a student to work in an area that is related to their studies, if this type of work is available. It is also possible to perform community service as part of the FWS program.
Your work assignment can either be an on-campus job or an off-campus position. Jobs on campus typically involve working for the school, while off-campus jobs can be with a nonprofit organization or a public agency.
How does the Federal Work-Study (FWS) Program work?
The federal government provides each participating college or university with funds to allocate toward work-study programs. The schools then determine the assignments, and once the college money has been allocated, there are no more assignments available for that year.
FWS work assignments are based on financial need. Students submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to apply for FWS, as well as other federal college financial aid, and some schools may ask for additional financial documents to determine eligibility for the program. When a school accepts you and sends the financial aid award letter, it will inform you whether you’ve received a work-study position and what your total award is. Once you accept the assignment, they’ll send you information on how to obtain your job.
Students who receive a FWS assignment are guaranteed to earn at least the federal minimum wage and are paid hourly at least once each month. A college student can choose to be paid directly, to have the money deposited into a bank account or to have the money allocated to pay for college education costs like tuition or room and board.
A college student typically works between 10-15 hours per week on a work-study assignment. However, your hours are limited by the dollar amount of your award, since the total amount of college money you earn can’t be more than what the school has decided to award you in FWS money.
FWS Tips & Tactics
- Work-study funds can run out quickly, which is another reason you should submit your FAFSA as early as possible. The amount of college aid you’re awarded for your work-study opportunity depends on how early you apply, how much work-study money the school has to offer to students and how much financial need you have.
- On your FAFSA form, check “yes” when asked if you’re interested in student employment. If you don’t, you won’t be considered for work-study assignments. Already submitted your FAFSA? Contact the financial aid office of the school you want to attend to let them know you’d like to be considered for any available assignments.
- If you don’t qualify for this federal aid, contact your school’s career services office, financial aid office or student services office to find out if there are non-federal work-study opportunities available. You can also contact your major’s department to see if there are any available positions, or you may find work in a campus library or a different major’s department.
- If you’re choosing between an on-campus or off-campus position, keep in mind that a school job is more likely to be accommodating about your classes and exam schedule. That said, you should choose the job that you think will be most valuable to you in the long run.