Is a College Work-Study Program Right for Me?

College Finance
November 12, 2019
It’s No Secret That College Is Expensive…

As if tuition wasn’t enough, thousands of students struggle with paying for the other necessities of college like books, housing, meal plans, and activity fees. However, there are multiple ways students can pay for college while they’re still in school.

Many colleges offer federal work-study programs, in which students can study and work for the university at the same time. In a program such as this one, your paycheck goes towards your college dues, and hopefully alleviates the stress of your expenses.

If you’re unsure whether or not you should consider a work-study program when you’re in college, keep reading. There are many ways you can pay for college! With just a bit of research and planning, you can create a financially smart plan for yourself that will leave you free to enjoy your college experience.

What You’ll Find In This Article:

What Are College Work-Study Programs?

A college work-study program is federally-funded, and allows eligible students to get part-time jobs to help them pay for college. You have the opportunity to work in numerous areas on campus, whether it be the library, an academic department, or a student program.

Around half a million students receive aid through their colleges’ work-study program every year, making it one of the most ambitious and helpful student aid programs in the country.

Typically, your employer works around your class schedule. Most work-study programs understand that the primary reason your working for them is to be able to pay your college tuition, however, the reason why federal work-study programs are so unique is because it grants you two opportunities simultaneously:

  • Money to use towards your college expenses
  • Job experience

You’ll receive your state’s average minimum wage and, over time, your earnings from the federal work-study program can pay up to 75 percent of your college expenses, while the other 25 percent can be covered by loans, grants, or scholarships.

While working to pay your way through school, you’ll also gain experience working in a field of your choice. Most students have some choice of where they work, as work-study programs often try to obtain jobs for their students that are similar to their major or area of study.

Essentially, having a work-study job means that, during the school year, you’ll attend your classes normally and then be scheduled to work somewhere on or off campus in your free time, depending on where you apply.

Federal work-study programs are vital tools for many students, and if you’re eligible, it could become one of the many supplemental ways you pay for college.

Am I Eligible For A Work-Study Job

Typically, students who have already accepted into a need-based college aid program are the ones eligible for work-study. The eligibility requirements for any form of federal student aid are:

  • You must meet U.S. federal law work requirements (citizenship, legal non-citizen, etc.)
  • You must have a social security number
  • You must have completed high school, or obtained your G.E.D.
  • You must be attending a university that offers federal student aid programs

In order to determine your eligibility for the Federal Work-Study Program, however, there are a few extra of requirements:

  • You must obtain a college financial aid award letter by filling out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).
  • On the FAFSA, you must demonstrate your need for college financial aid by providing specific information about your household like your parents’ income, your income, and how many people live in the house who plan on going to college.

The reason why eligibility is so important is simple: if you can afford college without federal aid, they don’t want to give you a work-study position that could otherwise be filled by a student who needs the money to pay for school. While federally-funded programs like work-study want to make sure students are being awarded what they need, work-study eligibility is given on a first-come, first-serve basis, so the earlier you apply, the better.

After demonstrating your need for federal student aid, your college financial aid award letter will include every federal student aid program you’re eligible for, whether that be scholarships, grants, and/or federal work-study.

How Can I Apply For Federal Work-Study?

Applying for federal work-study programs isn’t complicated. There are just a few steps you need to follow to see if you’re eligible, and then hopefully start applying for work-study positions.


To apply for the federal work-study program, you need to first fill out the FAFSA, or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

FAFSA is required to be filled out by every student who is planning on using any form of financial aid when they apply to college; this includes scholarships, grants, and loans. FAFSA’s purpose is to ensure that students who are eligible for federal aid are getting a fair shot at paying for college.

FAFSA looks at your parents’ household income and, if you worked a job during high school, your income. By using this data and other information on the application, they then determine whether you are eligible for federal aid or not.

Filling out the FAFSA can seem daunting at first, so if you have any doubts, reference WeAdmit’s blog, where we guide you through the complete process in much more depth.


Most colleges have a career center where they help their students transition out of college and into the workplace. However, in addition to their career services, they provide their students with federal work-study opportunities.

Let’s use Princeton University as an example. Through their student employment office, you can see what jobs are available, how much they pay, and apply for a position if you can supply them with your FAFSA, deeming you as eligible for federal work-study.

This process is similar for many colleges, so check with your college’s career center if you want to learn more about your federal work-study options.

Top 4 Questions About College Work-Study Programs

Work-study programs for the most part are clear-cut; you’re either eligible or you’re not. However, if work-study is a new concept for you, as it is for many students, then you may have some questions regarding how the program works, if it really helps students pay for school, and whether or not it would be a good fit for you.


When participating in a work-study program you receive a paycheck bi-weekly, like most jobs. Tuition is commonly due before the start of every semester, therefore, your work-study paychecks can’t be applied to your tuition bill directly.

It’s suggested that work-study paychecks go towards other college expenses like housing, meal plans, fees, and books. These payments can add up significantly over time, and if you’re responsible with your earnings from your work-study, you can pay for a majority of your college necessities.

If you need help paying for tuition, consider any scholarships, grants, and student loans that you’re eligible for. While loans aren’t ideal, combining this financial aid with work-study could be the best way for you to pay for college.


Just because you’re eligible for work-study doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed a position.

The need for work-study positions has clearly increased in recent years. Your situation may be common among most high school seniors: you worked hard in high school to get accepted into the college of your dreams. Unfortunately, the college of your dreams just so happens to be one of the most expensive ones in the U.S. If this is your case, you’ve joined a population of thousands of students who face the same dilemma as you do.

When you’re applying for a work-study position, keep in mind that there are still sophomores, juniors, and seniors ahead of you who are doing their best to hold onto their work-study positions. The program may not even have any positions available yet.

Even the most black and white process has it’s gray areas, however. Even though work-study programs can’t 100% guarantee you a job, it’s still a very wise idea to apply early on in your college career. This way, you can wait the process out and receive a position sooner rather than later.


Work-study programs are simply the umbrella over the many different jobs you can have. Because of this, the pay and hours for each job will differ. For example, if you secure a position working in your school’s library, you may be scheduled for random shifts throughout the day since the job is primarily administrative: checking books in and out, organizing shelves, and inventory.

However, if you receive a job at a coffee shop on campus, you may be scheduled to open up the coffee shop at 4 AM. In addition to a smaller-than-average paycheck, you may also have a tip jar that you can split with your fellow employees.

Your pay will be at least 7.25 per hour, the average federal minimum wage, but it could fluctuate depending on your job. Every job will also have different hours and a different payment method because its overseen by different departments and employers.

While pay and hours will vary from job to job, work-study will still provide you with a way to help you pay for your college materials, and work-study jobs are required to schedule you with your existing classes in mind.


If you find that you’re ineligible for a work-study position, but you’d still like to find a job on campus, you don’t have to go the work-study route!

Most jobs that are available to the college's own students are primarily work-study. However, there are some jobs available where you are simply an employee of the university, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re a student or not.

These positions are typically listed right alongside work-study positions, if it’s hosted by your school’s career center.

Working on campus is very convenient, especially if you’re a residential student or you don’t have a car, but if there aren’t many options for work on campus, consider applying to any businesses within walking distance of your college campus. You could also consider remote or freelance positions that you can do online.

The Final Verdict

Regardless of your background, working throughout college is an excellent way to pay for school. However, work-study positions are by far the best option for students who have demonstrated their need for college financial aid.

Make sure to fill out the FAFSA earlier rather than later, because federal work-study eligibility is awarded to students on a first-come, first-serve basis. Above all, remember to do your research, and contact or visit your school’s career center. These centers have specialized counselors who can look at your financial situation and help you determine whether or not you’re eligible. They can also give you tips for work-study programs if you plan on participating in one during college.

Of course, if you find yourself needing more personalized guidance, contact one of WeAdmit’s professional counselors. We’re standing by to help you determine whether or not work-study is a worthwhile move for you, along with helping you plan for other forms of financial aid like loans or scholarships. The sooner you get started the better, so...

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