What Is a Work-Study Job?

College students working in library
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DEFINITION:
A work-study job is a part-time position provided by the Federal Work-Study Program. This U.S. government program funds part-time jobs for college students who have financial need while they're enrolled in school.

Key Takeaways

  • Undergraduate and graduate students can obtain work-study jobs through the Federal Work-Study Program as part of their financial aid package.
  • Students with financial need are eligible for work-study jobs.
  • Work-study jobs are part-time and pay at least minimum wage. They can be either on campus or off campus.
  • Students who don't qualify for work-study positions may be able to find on-campus jobs through their school's student employment or career services offices.

How Work-Study Jobs Work

The Federal Work-Study Program is a component of federal financial aid provided by the U.S. Department of Education. Work-study funds part-time jobs for undergraduates, graduate students, and professional students with demonstrated need, allowing them to earn money to help pay education-related expenses.

Students in work-study jobs generally work flexible hours that don’t conflict with their class schedules. There are limits to how many hours students can work each week so they'll have time for studying and school activities.

The types of schools that participate in the federal student aid program include four-year colleges and universities, two-year colleges (community and junior colleges), and career schools (technical and vocational schools).

Check with the financial aid office to find out whether your university or career school participates. If it does, and you qualify for the program, the federal government will pay for some or all of the wages you earn at a work-study job.

Example of a Work-Study Job

A student may be awarded work-study funds as part of their financial aid package. Students who are eligible can then apply for on-campus (and possibly off-campus) work-study jobs. 

The student reviews open positions and applies for work-study jobs through the college’s student employment portal or financial aid office or directly with a campus department. Positions are frequently available in dining services, campus offices, administration, and academic departments. 

A student who is interested in working flexible hours and doesn’t have much experience, for example, might want to start with a job in dining services. After the student completes an employment application, they will interview with dining services, and if hired, they will be given a work schedule in food services or the dining hall that doesn’t conflict with their class schedule.

How To Apply for the Federal Work-Study Program

Applying for Student Aid 

Unlike other jobs on campus that aren’t work-study positions, you’ll be applying for the program through the federal government rather than directly at your college or career school. Because work-study is part of the student aid program, you can’t apply for it separately. It’s part of the federal application process for financial aid, and it’s based on need. Both undergraduates and graduate students can apply for the program, whether they are full-time or part-time students.

You will need to formally apply for federal student aid to get a determination of your eligibility for a work-study job. You can use the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form to apply for federal aid for college, vocational school, or graduate school. 

Note

Understanding how student aid is calculated can help you get an idea of how much aid you’ll be eligible to receive and whether or not work-study will be part of it. The Federal Student Aid Estimator can help you calculate an estimate.

Notification of Eligibility

You’ll be notified about financial aid when you receive the award package from the school you’re attending. Once you verify that work-study is part of your financial aid package, you can apply for jobs through your school—typically through the student employment office.

Keep in mind that this program doesn’t guarantee that you will get a job. Rather, it helps provide funding for your employment if you are hired.

Types of Work-Study Jobs

Plenty of campus work-study jobs are available, and there may be off-campus positions you can apply for as well. If it’s an off-campus job, the work must be in the public interest (typically at a non-profit organization or a public agency) in order to be eligible for participation in the work-study program. Community service work and work related to your course of study are encouraged. 

The types of work-study jobs that are available will depend on the school you're attending, but they often include administrative, research, and library positions.

How To Apply for a Work-Study Job

At most participating institutions, you need to apply, interview, and get an offer just as you would with any other job. In order to have a larger selection of job options available, it’s important to apply as early in the semester as possible, before jobs are taken by others.

How you will find and apply for jobs depends on the school you’re attending:

  • Jobs may be listed on the general jobs website, with work-study positions designated as such.
  • Opportunities could be listed on the student employment or career services website. 
  • Campus departments and offices may list openings on their website, and you can always stop in and ask about available positions. 

Note

If you’re not sure about the best way to apply, check with the financial aid office for information on where to find job listings and how to apply.

Pay for Work-Study Jobs

A student’s federal student aid determination will provide information on how much their work-study award will be, and that’s how much they will be able to earn each academic year through the program.

The federal minimum wage is the lowest rate you can be paid for a work-study job. If your state has a higher minimum wage, you’ll be paid at least that rate. You may be able to earn more, depending on your skills and job qualifications. 

Undergraduate students are generally paid hourly, while professional and graduate students may be paid hourly or receive a salary, depending on the job. The number of hours you can work is limited to a set number per school year, and your earnings can’t exceed the amount listed in your Federal Work-Study award.

The total amount you’ll be able to earn depends on when you apply for the program, your level of need, and the funding level of your school.

Alternatives to Work-Study Jobs

If you’re not eligible or can’t line up a work-study position, there are other options available. Not all jobs on campus are work-study positions. You may be able to line up a part-time job on campus through your school’s student employment office or get hired directly by a department. Check for details on what’s available with your college’s student employment office or directly with departments where you would like to work.

Also, consider a part-time position off campus or an online job. Many companies are flexible and willing to work around a student’s class schedule, and—especially in busy college towns—employment opportunities are plentiful.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Are students guaranteed a work-study job?

Work-study jobs aren’t guaranteed. Being able to obtain a work-study position depends on your financial need, whether you used the prior year’s work-study funds, and how much funding your school has for work-study jobs. It’s important to apply as soon as you can for available positions because funding is limited.

How much do work-study jobs pay?

Work-study positions pay at least the current federal minimum wage. If state or local law requires a higher minimum wage, the student must be paid the higher rate. Some jobs may pay more than the minimum wage, depending on the position.

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Sources
The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Federal Student Aid. "Federal Work-Study Jobs Help Students Earn Money to Pay for College or Career School."

  2. Benefits.gov. "What is Federal Work-Study?"

  3. Federal Student Aid. "8 Things You Should Know About Federal Work-Study."

  4. Federal Student Aid. "The Federal Work-Study Program."

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