what is work-study
what is work-study

If you’re thinking about how you are going to pay off your college loans, you’re not alone. 1 in 3 undergraduate students borrows money from the federal government to cover their college expenses.

College isn’t getting any easier, and you shouldn’t have to stress about achieving stellar grades, finding a great job opportunity, and paying back your loans all at the same time – which is why we’re here to help.

We’ve provided the following guide to help you answer the question “What is work-study?” and learn more about the benefits work-study has to offer. They are just one of the options you can explore to make your college education more affordable.

Read on to find out more!

What is Work-Study?

The Federal Work-Study Program offers the work-study program to students who have demonstrated need. It gives on-campus employers and a few off-campus employers the chance to hire students part-time.

Employers choose to do this because they’re not responsible for all of the students’ pay. Half of the students’ pay comes from the employer, and the other half comes from a financial aid package. 

Students who participate in work-study programs are typically offered a set amount that they can earn through their work-study program. This helps to give students an idea of how much they can earn throughout the year and how much time they will be working.

Types of Work-Study Programs

If you don’t know much about a work-study program, you may not know what to expect at first. Do work-study programs just consist of jobs that the university can’t get anyone else to do?

On the contrary – while many work-study jobs involve customer-service-oriented tasks like serving people at restaurants or working in the dining hall, there are also plenty of opportunities to work in areas that are relevant to your degree.

Some of the popular college student jobs for a work-study program include:

  • office assistant
  • tour guide
  • tutor
  • computer lab position
  • marketer
  • researcher
  • dining hall server
  • college event planner
  • sports team manager or assistant
  • receptionist
  • library assistant for data entry

With some research, you’ll likely be able to find an available work-study program that piques your interest. For example, say you’re a computer science major. You could likely find a job working in IT support at a computer lab. If you’re working in hospitality, you could look for jobs that involve helping plan student events or give incoming freshman tours of the campus.

If working for your school doesn’t seem up your alley, many work-study programs also offer opportunities to get involved as a local community service worker. Service opportunities will be available on campus, and you’ll likely also be able to find some non-profits located close to campus.

Not Counted on the FAFSA

To calculate your expected family contributions, the FAFSA will take into account your income and your guardians’ income. That means, if you take a part-time job and you earn over $6420 a year, that income will increase the amount of money your family is expected to pay for your education. You’ll ultimately receive less financial aid.

A work-study program, on the other hand, will not be counted as income on your FAFSA. Although you have to report it as a formality, it is viewed as a financial aid award. In some cases, you may be able to avoid paying taxes on your FAFSA income if you prove that it is used to pay for college-related expenses.

You Keep What You Earn

When college seems to be financially impossible, a student loan may feel like a godsend. You’ll finally be able to attend your number one choice of school.

Unfortunately, student loans can take years to pay back. Some universities may be so expensive that paying back loans at a reasonable rate requires decades. If you participate in a work-study program, though, your income will count as a means to pay back your tuition without counting as a loan.

This means that anything you earn from your work-study program is yours to keep. It will be classified as earnings. You’ll have the ability to use these earnings on anything you so choose.

And since your earnings won’t be counted on the FAFSA, you’ll have more peace of mind – you’ll be able to spend your income without worrying that it will affect your financial status. 

Gain Direction

Most students use their time in college to figure out what careers they want to pursue, and 1 in 3 college students will end up changing their major at least once, according to a study from the U.S. Department of Education.

If you’re one of those students, a work-study program is a suitable choice. Since you’ll be working on campus, you’ll have more flexibility to change jobs should you realize the career path you want to follow.

You’ll also get the opportunity to be working with your peers, many of whom will have different majors, career goals, and schedules. By getting to know them, you’ll expose yourself to a variety of paths that you could follow. The more you’re aware of, the better understanding you will have of what you want to do and don’t want to do.

Reasonable Hours

When you have a part-time job, you’ll likely be working in a larger organization whose operations don’t work with your schedule. During school breaks or midterms, you’ll still have to work the same amount of hours as you would during a less busy time of the year.

However, work-study programs are part of financial aid. They were established with your academic success in mind. This means that your work-study programs will be much more flexible with your hours. They likely will follow the same schedule of holidays and breaks as your university does.

A work-study program also sets a limit on your working hours. You can’t be required to work more than 15 hours a week, so you’ll have plenty of time to focus on your studies.

Less Competition

When you apply for a part-time job, you’re competing with dozens, if not hundreds of people for one position. Part-time jobs aren’t limited by age or financial status, so almost everyone can apply.

Meanwhile, you have to meet certain qualifications to apply for a work-study program. You need to be a college student, and you also need to have demonstrated financial need. You also need to have completed an application on your FAFSA.

Since work-study jobs aren’t open to the general public, you’re up against a smaller pool of applicants for each position.

More Convenient

If you’re a college student, it’s more likely than not that you didn’t bring your car to your campus. In fact, at some schools like the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Boston University, and Georgetown, less than 1% of students on campus have a car.

While not having a car as a college student is one less thing that you have to take care of, it also means that finding transportation to a part-time job could be difficult.

With a work-study program, though, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll need a car. Most work-study programs are on campus or just a few blocks away. It will make getting to your job that much more convenient as a student.

Gain Work Experience

As with any job, work-study or not, your position will give you the chance to gain the work experience that employers value. Only 40% of full-time students are employed. Showing that you can balance a job and maintain your grades is a sign to future employers that you will be a valuable asset to their company. A job that gives back to campus is also a great thing to have on your resume.

A work-study job is a great place to develop soft skills that can only be improved in a work environment or similar setting.

  • communication
  • problem-solving
  • time management
  • teamwork skills
  • organization
  • leadership
  • goal-setting

You’ll be able to learn more about your work style, how you communicate with others, and what areas you need to work on before you officially enter a professional field.

And, in some cases, you’ll learn more than just soft skills.

Certain work-study programs will teach you the hard skills that you are looking to master before applying for your post-grad plans. If you work in a research lab, you’ll have the ability to familiarize yourself with procedures before applying to med school. If you work as a marketer for the school, you can learn certain marketing trends that you can apply to your dream job as a marketing manager.

Available to All Types of Students

Work-study programs aren’t just an option for undergrads. Federal-work study opportunities are available to undergraduate, graduate, and professional students.

So, even if you find yourself enjoying your program as an undergrad, you have the opportunity to continue after you graduate. And if you don’t have the chance to participate in work-study during your bachelor’s degree, you can give it a shot during your master’s degree or professional schooling.

You may want to give back as an upperclassman or graduate student. Working with your school to create a work-study program for younger students is a great way to do so.


Your work-study program will offer you ample opportunities to network. During your position, you can get to know your fellow peers and your superiors. United by your university, you’ll be working together to make it a better place for all of the students. You’ll be able to ask questions and likely discover more about opportunities on campus as well as future job leads.

You may also get the chance to work with a college counselor who is specifically assigned to help you find a program to suit your needs. Your counselor can take the time to get to know you and select a program that is relevant to your career goals.

After a work-study program, you can ask your counselor for a reference mentioning your work ethic and development. These relationships will look great on your resume!

Other Considerations for Work-Study

Like any job, a work-study program is not perfect. Before you commit to a work-study program, make sure to consider the following information.

Work-study programs limit your hours. Although it’s helpful for your schooling to only work part-time, you may be looking for a job with more hours. A work-study program will typically require 15 to 20 hours of your time each week and won’t be able to accommodate more.

Wages also may not be as competitive as a part-time job. Often, you won’t be able to earn a raise or earn past a certain amount because the money you earn is being funded by financial aid. If you’re looking for a job that has advancement opportunities, a work-study program may not have what you need.

Also, you may not always get the job you want. Although counselors will do everything in their power to place you in your ideal field, it’s best to be open-minded about what’s available.

However, for students looking for flexible options, career development, and a way to get involved on campus, all while making a stable income, a work-study program is a great option.

Finding a Work-Study Program for You

Now that you’ve gone from asking yourself: “What is work-study?” to understanding the pros of work-study programs, you’re ready to get started.

Contact us to help you find the best work-study program options at your university and explore any other financial opportunities that can make your college experience better. We’re excited to get to know you!

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