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Is work-study worth it?

Published April 11, 2024| minute read
Hadiya Iqbal

Senior Associate, JPMorgan Chase

    The idea of federal work-study programs – working part-time as an undergraduate or graduate student and earning money to help pay for school expenses – may sound great.

    However, there are pros and cons that come with work-study programs. Here’s what you need to consider before deciding if this program is right for you.

    What's work-study?

    First things first, what's work-study exactly? The Federal Work-Study Program (FWS) provides part-time jobs to undergraduate and graduate students with demonstrated financial need, allowing them to earn money to help pay education expenses. Students may be employed by the college or university they’re attending, a federal, state, or local public agency, a private nonprofit organization, or a private for-profit organization. Students access this program by filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®).

    Should I be interested in being considered for work-study (and other work-study FAQs)?

    Let’s dive into the specifics of work-study, including how much you could potentially earn, how you’ll get paid, and more.

    How much can I earn for work-study?

    You’ll earn at least the current federal minimum wage for every hour you work. However, you may make more depending on your work and the skills required for the position.

    Your total work-study award (the maximum you’ll legally be able to earn for the academic year) depends on the following:

    • When you apply
    • Your level of financial need
    • Your school’s funding level

    How will I get paid for work-study?

    How you’re paid depends partly on whether you’re an undergraduate or graduate student.

    • You’re paid by the hour if you’re an undergraduate student
    • You’re either paid by the hour or with a salary if you’re a graduate or professional student
    • It’s required that your school must pay you at least once a month
    • It’s required that your school must pay you directly by check unless you request that your school send your payments directly to your bank account or use the money to pay for your education-related expenses (tuition, fees, food, or housing)

    Can I work as many hours as I want with work-study?

    The amount you’re legally able to earn can’t exceed your total Federal Work-Study award (outlined in the aid award letter you receive from your school each year) for the academic year. Your employer or school’s financial aid office will consider your class schedule and academic progress before assigning you work hours for the semester, too.

    Do I need to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) to be eligible for work-study?

    Completing the FAFSA® is the only way to be considered for Federal Work-Study. Once you’ve filled out your FAFSA® form and have been accepted to your college or career school, you’ll receive a financial aid award letter. This letter will outline all the financial aid you’re eligible for (if any), including Federal Work-Study if you’re eligible.

    The pros and cons of work-study

    When considering if work-study is the right choice for you, it might be worth weighing the pros and cons of the choice. Here are just a few to consider.

    Pros of work-study

    • Because your work-study program is through your school, you’re more likely to have flexible hours for studying time, so your job doesn’t get in the way of your education.
    • The earnings from your work-study job won’t go toward your tuition automatically, so you get to decide how you want to spend this money. However, you can usually ask the financial aid office to apply your work-study earnings toward your tuition.

    Cons of work-study

    • You can only earn a certain amount of money a semester with your work-study position. This amount is listed on your financial aid award letter supplied to you by your school.
    • Your school will likely place you in a work-study job, so you won’t get to be that active in picking what you ultimately do.

    Final thoughts

    It’s important to remember that this isn’t the only way to help pay for college and to earn extra spending money while you're in college. You can apply for scholarships, part-time jobs, and paid internships (among other things). Contact your school’s financial aid office to see what resources your school provides when it comes to applying for these different opportunities.

    If you feel like the Federal Work-Study opportunity offered by your school pays well, will provide a good experience, and doesn’t interfere with your studies, it’s worth considering if you’re eligible. Weigh your options and make an informed decision to ensure you ’re setting yourself up for success.