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Everything You Need to Know About the Work-Study Program

How to qualify and how much you’ll make

Abbey Slattery
Contributor

College student

Image courtesy of jodyhongfilms

In the 2017–2018 school year, the average cost to go to a public, in-state school was $20,770, while private schools averaged at $46,950—and that’s only taking into account tuition, fees, and room and board. If you think that number is high...that’s probably because it is. In fact, in the last 40 years, the average cost of college has increased by 150 percent. 

All of that to say, college in the United States is expensive. Luckily, there are options available to help ease the financial burden. The Federal Work-Study Program is one of them. 

Here’s what you need to know about what a work-study entails, how to know if you might qualify, and how much you can expect to make. 

What is a work-study?

The Federal Work-Study Program is a form of financial aid provided by the Federal Student Aid Office of the Department of Education. It provides part-time jobs for graduate and undergraduate students so they can earn money to help pay for their education. Work-studies are granted based on financial need. 

According to Sallie Mae's How America Pays for College 2019 report, around 14 percent of families used the Federal Work-Study Program last year. 

Both part-time and full-time students can qualify for work-study jobs, but not all schools participate. And even if your school does offer work-studies, qualifying doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you’ll get a job—you’ll still need to do a little searching and then apply for a position. 

Not all work-study options are on campus, however. While you will typically work for your school, you may also find a job with a local private nonprofit organization or a public agency. Some work-studies can even be with private for-profit companies, but they have to be relevant to your major. 

As far as compensation goes, it’ll vary based on a number of factors, but whatever you make won’t be applied directly to your tuition. Instead, work-study jobs operate pretty much like a normal job, sending out paychecks every pay period that you’re free to use in whatever way you choose. And it’s a great deal for your school, too—the federal government covers up to 75 percent of your salary.

How do I know if I qualify for a work-study job?

While you’re filling out the FAFSA, there will be a box that asks if you’d like to be considered for work-study eligibility. Checking the box doesn’t mean that you’ll qualify or that if you do qualify, you have to take a position—it’s just a way of saying: Hey, I’m open to it. 

If your scool participates in the Federal Work-Study Program, then they’ll evaluate your eligibility based on your financial standing and other criteria. A few of the main basic requirements include:

  • You must be a United States citizen, permanent resident, or eligible non-citizen

  • Have a social security number, unless you’re from the Freely Associated States

  • Earn a high school diploma or the equivalent

  • Be accepted at an eligible school

  • Show financial need, which is calculated based on things like your household’s size, your family’s income, and assets

Read more: 5 Strategies to Help You Pay Off Your Student Loans

What sort of jobs are available? How do I find one?

Your school will likely have an online database that lists available opportunities. Usually, the positions focus on either civic education or furthering your knowledge in the field of your study. 

On-campus jobs can include anything from washing dishes in the dining hall to checking out books at the library. Not all schools offer off-campus options, but if they do, they’ll usually include companies that work in the public interest, like a community center, a hospital, or a government office. 

Since you have to be a student to qualify for a work-study, the hours accommodate an academic schedule. You’ll have to work anywhere from 10–20 hours a week (but no more than 20), and your position will almost always work around whatever your class schedule is.  

Read more: How to Make a Resume for Your First Job

How much does a work-study pay?

For undergraduates, work-studies are considered hourly jobs, and you’ll likely be paid once per month. As far as wages go, minimum wage is guaranteed, but you may make more depending on the position and the amount of your award. Last year, the average income for a student participating in the Federal Work-Study Program was $1,808. 

Since there’s no requirement how you use your paycheck, you can get a paper paycheck, a direct deposit, or request that your school puts the money directly toward fees like tuition or room and board. 

Is it taxable income?

Yes, income from work-study jobs is considered taxable. There are two exceptions, however: if your position is under a) the National Health Service Corps Scholarship Program, or b) Armed Forces Health Professions Scholarship and Financial Assistance Program.

If you’re putting all of your paychecks directly towards paying off school, you may qualify for the American Opportunity Tax Credit.

Read more: 8 Jobs for Physics Majors in Awesome Industries

Will it affect my FAFSA?

The short answer? No.

According the latest FAFSA stipulations, a student can earn $6,570 before it’s officially counted as income that affects their financial aid. However, income from your work-study isn’t even counted as part of your “official” income. 

In fact, if you feel you need to work extra to help cover costs, then a work-study could help you avoid veering into the danger zone with your financial aid coverage, since it won’t be applied to your total income. That way, you can work a work-study and a part-time job, and still qualify. 

Your income, however, may change in other ways over the course of the year, like if you get a high-paying job or start picking up more hours at a job outside of your work-study. When you apply for FAFSA the following year, you may not be guaranteed a work-study position again if you pass the income threshold. 

Read more: 6 Surprisingly High-Paying College Majors

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