Federal Work-Study: What You Need to Know

The Federal Work-Study program is a great way for a student to work at the college part-time and of course be making some money. It’s ideal for those wanting to work during and at the college. This falls under the umbrella of College Grants. A student can gain valuable experience while they are studying hard for their degree. Like all things in this space there are things to know. So let’s take a deep dive and check out all we need to know about the Federal Work-Study program.

What is the Federal Work Study Program?

A Federal Work-Study program provides jobs to those in process of achieving an undergraduate or graduate degree. Financial need will need to be establish by the completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). If determined that you have enough of a financial need then you will be matched with a job.

It’s basically part-time employment based on financial need. It’s part of the financial aid package and goes to the cost of their education. So it’s the ability to gain valuable work experience while earning money towards your tuition. More than 3.400 colleges across the nation participate.  

How to apply to be a Federal Work-Study?

To apply for a Federal Work-Study position, it all goes back to the FAFSA. There are factors in determining the need. Some of these factors for Federal Work-Study eligibility are:

  • Income of student
  • Income of parents (if student is coined as a dependent)
  • Size of the household

Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and complete it early. Some schools will look at the FAFSA completion date as for which students to award the funds to.

Types of Federal Work-Study Jobs

As a Federal Work-Study, you can be employed on or off campus. Some job positions may not include positions at the actual college. There may be community service options with some non-profit employers. Public agencies may also be included. If a school happens to have agreements with employers for work-study jobs then they must be relevant to your course of study. At some colleges where I was employed, some Federal Work-Study positions consisted of working in the library and helping out with the student services department.

In recent years, universities and colleges have linked up with local elementary schools and started offering work-study positions as a literacy tutors.

Federal Work-Study is part of Financial Aid

Your eligibility for the Federal Work-Study Grant (basically what it is but you have to work). After the students demonstrate their need via the FAFSA application it’s considered part of the “financial aid package.”

Financial Aid Eligibility

A question that is often asked is if receiving Federal Work-Study earnings will count against a student when completing the FAFSA. The answer is that they don’t! Work-study earnings are not factored in the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. So good news here is that the income does not jeopardize future financial aid eligibility.

Federal Work-Study and Taxes

Another common question is if the funds that a student earns from the Federal Work-Study program is subjected to federal and state income tax? The answer is that the earnings are usually exempt from FICA taxes (social security and Medicare taxes) IF the student is enrolled in 6 or more credit hours or are working on campus. Amounts are based on the calendar year on their taxes, not for the amounts they earned during a school year.

Federal Work-Study programs are technically a type of financial aid as work-study jobs allow you to earn wages instead of taking on debt. The IRS views this an income for tax reporting purposes.

Federal Work-Study Funds  

The Federal Work-Study funds will often appeal in your financial aid letter however, these funds that are earned will come to you in the form of a paycheck. These funds are best to help students with educational expenses like books, transportation, or living costs. Student are paid week or biweekly for the actual hours that they have worked. College should be informing the student who receive Federal Work-Study awards that it’s no applicable to tuition.

Federal Work-Study Hourly Pay

Federal Work-Study jobs vary with responsibilities. The pay will depend on the job that you are hired to do. More often though the pay is at least the current minimum wage.

Here are some important things to remember about the hourly pay:

  • Undergraduate students are paid by the hour
  • Graduate students are paid by the hour or by salary (depending on the work you do)
  • You must be paid at least once a month
  • The school must pay you directly unless the student requests the school sends the payment to their bank account.

Hours may vary

Federal Work-Study hours may also vary. The colleges and universities set the hours for work-study employment for their students. Normally the students work no more than 20 hours a week during a given semester as it’s intended to be part-time work.  Students are not allowed to surpass the chosen hours from their financial aid award. From my personal experience I see the range be between 10-20 hours per week.

School Schedule

Yes another common question I get is if you get a Federal Work-Study position will they work around your class schedule. The answer is yes. Most employment positions for student (whether it be at the college or at an employer) will work around your class schedule. Just ensure that you are telling them what you schedule is.

Federal Work-Study Funding is limited

With funding limited, the Department of Education has had data showing that sometimes more work-study opportunities are offered by private four-year institutions compared to the large public universities. Some large universities (say 15,000 undergraduates) may receive enough funding for about 3,000 students for a work-study position. Some universities with perhaps double of the amount of undergraduates could receive half the amount. So it all depends based on school and funding.  

Can’t live off it

Some students are super stoked about getting a Federal-Work study positon. However, the pay as you see if not a lot. It’s minimal and not enough to live off of. This holds especially true if you live super expensive areas (New York, California, Washington D.C). I have seen many situations where students even take on another part-time job so they have enough for living expenses.

Federal Work Study is Year to Year Employment

Several factors determine the work-study eligibility. For examples if a student’s family income increase it could affect the results that come back from the FAFSA. Also the funding could change for what the school gets and receives for the program. This is where it’s super important to complete the FAFSA early so you are in the pool of consideration.

7 Facts about the Federal Work-Study Program

Being awarded Federal Work-Study does not guarantee you a job

Accepting the Federal Work-Study funds is step 1. You then need to start finding a work study job. Now some schools may match student to jobs but most will require the student to find and apply on their own.

Not all work-study jobs are on campus Funds are not applied directly to their tuition

So this is not awarded like funds to your account. Students who have these work study positions will receive a paycheck as if they are working a normal job.

Jobs are limited

Competition is stiff. Your school may not have enough funds or positions to cover all the students who are eligible hence why completing your FAFSA early is important.

Federal Work-Study is not guaranteed year to year

With the completion of each FAFSA for the aid year, things can change. The family income/financial need. This could impact your eligibility.

Pay may vary

Based on the job you are doing, the pay may vary. To note, the wages for most of these positions are based on the minimum wage requirements in the state.

Weekly work hours may vary

Again, this depends on type of job. They typically will work around your class schedule and typically its 10-20 hours per week.

Federal Work-Study Earnings are removed from your FAFSA calculation

When completing the new FAFSA it doesn’t count towards your earnings which helps.

Federal Work-Study Next Steps

When it comes time for you’re to complete the FAFSA, make sure it’s completed as early as possible especially if you qualify. Now this goes back to what I like to call the “ice pick” method where we chop away and away at the tuition.

I knew students eligible for the Federal Work Study program and they worked part time jobs elsewhere and that helped them with their overall costs. Now I’m sure that stretched them thin and it was hard work but if we look at the big picture here it may be worth it.

At the end of the day if this is something that interest you, then you have the steps and facts above to be armed with making a conscious decision. At the end of the pay (even beyond the pay) it’s great work experience and gives you the ability to network. In your first year of college when you are adjusting to perhaps being away from home and just the overall change in life for college, the Federal Work-Study program may be exactly what you need.

Tuition Drop Podcast

You can check out our episode of the Tuition Drop Podcast below on the Federal Work-Study Program.

Tuition Drop Podcast – Federal Work-Study Program
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