What Is Work-Study?

what is work-study

17.5 million people are attending an undergraduate program nationwide. They are improving their futures and expanding their knowledge at the same time. College is an amazing experience and can help you find yourself as a person. 

The tricky thing about college is figuring out how to pay for it. Paying for college is something that keeps families up at night, and can force students to put their dreams on hold until they can come up with the funds. 

When you apply for financial aid through the FAFSA, you might be asked about work-study. When that question comes up, you might be asking yourself “what is a work-study?” 

Keep reading to find out what a work study is, how to get in, and all the ways it can benefit you throughout your academic career. 

What Is a Work Study? 

Work studies are a state or federally funded program that college students find a part-time job. It won’t cover all of your college costs, but it will help significantly.

Undergraduate, graduate and professional students can all qualify for student aid. You can be a full time or part time student, which opens it up to more people. 

Qualifying for a Work Study 

The only way you can apply for a work study is by filling out the Free Application for Federal Studen Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA collects financial information about you and your parents/guardians. When you are asked on the application if you want to be considered for a work study position, select YES. 

After your FAFSA application has been processed, you will receive a report. This report will tell you if you qualified for a work study and how much you qualified for. You cannot apply to or perform a work study unless you have qualified for it on the FAFSA. 

Depending on where you’re going to school, you will qualify for a work study program. Not all schools do a work study option. If you are wondering if a school you’re applying to offers a work study program, you can contact their financial aid office for more information. 

If you qualify for a work study, you do not have to do one. But, they are a great option. Many financial aid offices would rather have students do a work study if they qualify than taking out even more student loans. 

Since you need to fill out the FASFA for every year you’re in school, there is no guarantee you will qualify for a work study every year. Always be sure to select YES on the question though, just in case. 

Where to Find Work-Study Opportunities

After you qualify for a work study, it’s your responsibility to find a work study position for yourself. It might seem difficult to try and find a work study, but your school has a lot of resources you can use to find one. 

If you need help improving your resume, your school’s career office can help you. Many schools will also have a portal you can go to to find qualifying work study opportunities. It’s recommended to try and find a work study that relates to your major so you can use that work experience in the future. 

Work studies can be anywhere on or off-campus. The job opportunities can range from filling vending machines to working in the library to working with a nonprofit organization. If you like working with other people, tutoring is a great option to look for. 

What Counts as a Work Study 

With such a wide variety of work study opportunities to pick from, it’s important to know what counts as a work study position. Many jobs will state if they are a work study in the description. Most work studies are provided by the school, even if it’s through a non-profit or corporate employer. 

Something to keep in mind when it comes to applying for work studies is that there is a lot of competition for them. Lots of students qualify for work study opportunities. Some of the popular ones tend to be library or desk positions where students can do their homework while working. 

If your school runs out of work study positions, you might still be able to find a job. Instead of being a work study, it will just be traditional employment. 

How Much Money You Get 

When you get your report back from the FAFSA, it will state the amount of money you are allowed to work for a work study program. For example, if you qualify for $5,000 worth of work study, you can only work up to that amount throughout the school year. 

The amount of money you can work up to depends on your financial need the FASFA determined you had. If you work up to that amount, many work study positions will let you become a traditional employee. This way, you can keep working and earning money beyond your FASFA limit. 

However, you are not guaranteed to make that full amount over a year. Like traditional employment, the amount of money you make at a work study depends on how much you work and how much you get paid. 

Work study payment depends on where you are going to school. Minimum wage requirements by the state or city your college is located in will also impact the amount you get paid. Most work study positions will pay that least the minimum wage for that area. 

How Do I Get Paid?

They way you get paid varies from school to school. Some schools have a website you go to to log your hours. Other schools will have you fill out paper time cards that you submit on a regular basis. 

Undergraduate students will usually get paid by the hour. Graduate or professional students will also have the option to be paid by the hour. 

Some graduate or professional students will qualify for a higher quality work study position based on their major. This could be something like a lab assistant or a teacher’s assistant. These higher quality positions will usually be salaried. 

When you receive your payment, it’s up to you how you want it processed. 

If you want the money sent right to your bank account, use a direct deposit option. The great thing about direct deposit options is you have that money to use whenever you need it, like for food or supplies. 

Another option many schools offer is having the money go into a school account to pay for school specific things. You can set up this account with the financial aid office. The money will go directly to room and board, books, or tuition. 

Taxes and Your Work Study

For many students, a work study program is their first introduction to the American tax system. You do have to report your work study earnings when you file taxes.

Your work study paychecks will also have federal and state taxes taken out of them. However, you do not have social security and medicare taken out of your paychecks as long as you are enrolled in 6 or more credit hours. 

When you file your taxes, you will use a 1040 form. The great thing about filing your income taxes is some of the money that got taken out of your paycheck earlier in the year might be returned to you. Tax returns are a great way to add some extra money to your bank account. 

Work Study and FAFSA 

Each year when you fill out the FAFSA, you have to submit your tax information. What’s great about work study is it does not count against you when it comes to the financial aid process. 

When you fill out the FAFSA after having a work study positon, there are two areas you want to include your earnings in. Make sure these areas are as accurate as possible. 

The first area is when you are asked about your total income earned from work that year. The second area is when you are asked how much you earned through work studies. 

The amount of money you made on with a work study program is assumed to be used the year you made it in. You might get assigned a new work study amount for the new year. It’s possible that the amount you can earn will also increase the next year. 

Why a Work Study Is a Better Option than a Part-Time Job 

There are a lot of things that make getting a work study more beneficial for students over a traditional part-time job opportunity. 

Work studies are more likely to be related to the field you want to go into. If you are a computer science major and get a work study in a computer lab, that will be beneficial for your resume. It helps you build up experience early on without having to do something random. 

Another reason why a work study can be more beneficial than a regular part time job is you have a limit on how many hours you can work. Many part time jobs around colleges will have you work more hours every week than you would with a work study. 

It can be really hard to find a regular job that is accommodating with school schedules. While work studies still require you to be on time and available, they are more accommodating to a school environment because they understand that your primary focus is your education. Most part time jobs don’t understand that you just there to fund your educational achievements, not build a career. 

Many job options for work studies will allow you to do homework while you’re working. This is great because it means you can focus on your school work and have more free time for yourself later on. 

Many part time job opportunities will not let you work on homework on the job unless you are on break. Even then, many part time jobs can be more emotionally taxing and take more energy out of you. 

What Makes Part Time Jobs Appealing 

Something that will make many students pick a traditional part time job over a work study is the payment. Many work studies will not pay more than minimum wage. But, many part time job opportunities will pay you above that, especially now. 

The more you get paid, the more extra income you have. Sometimes work study payments are not enough to cover the costs of college. Picking a job that might be more demanding but pays more will be a better option in the long run. 

Some students do both a part time job and a work study if they have time for it! 

Part time jobs, depending on what they are, can have less competition. Work studies can be hard to get because so many students want them. But, part time job opportunities will usually have less people applying to them. 

While most work studies can fit with future career goals, it can be difficult to find the perfect job you feel will launch you into your future alongside your degree. With part time job opportunities, you can find a job that can better relate to your major or your future. 

If you do decide that a part time job is the right way to go, make sure you ask them about how they feel about student workers. If your job is flexible with your availability, then it might be a good option.  

Get Help Budgeting Your Work Study Funds

What is a work study and how it can help you reach your academic goals is easy to understand. You know how a work study will benefit you and that it’s a fantastic financial opportunity for you.

After you get a work study, the most important thing for you to do next is start figuring out how to budget your expenses. For many students, this is your first time managing money on your own. 

You don’t have to try and figure out how to manage your money by yourself. Reach out to us today for tips on creating a strong budget. 

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