My College Student Received His Financial Aid Package, But What is Federal Work Study?

Your child has been accepted to the college of his choice.  Congratulations!  You’ve received that all-important financial aid package and you’re all thinking about how to make it work.  A portion of this financial aid package is labeled Federal Work Study.  What exactly does that mean?

The Federal Work Study portion of the financial aid package is the portion that a student can earn through a part-time job on campus.  Not every campus job will be designated as a work-study job, but there are usually many different types of jobs available on campus which will qualify.  These jobs may include anything from working in the library, tutoring, cafeteria jobs, maintenance jobs, or clerical office positions.  Students apply for the jobs and are paid, usually federal minimum wage.  Obtaining a work-study job is usually handled during the first couple of weeks of the semester.

Work Study funds are provided to the school by the federal government.  The college will determine how to use these federal funds and which jobs will be designated as work-study positions. The awarding of funds to students is based on financial need as determined by the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).  Each school sets its own policies, procedures, and deadlines for applying for these jobs.

There are a few things which parents and students should consider and remember as they look at the work-study portion of the financial aid package.

Work-study is a reimbursement program.

Work-study funds are paid directly to the student – through weekly or bi-weekly pay checks.  This is a reimbursement program.  The amount of work-study funds will not be deducted from the tuition bill.  You will need to pay the amount and then the student will have the opportunity to earn money on campus through his work-study job.  The student earns the money and the money goes directly to him – even if parents are paying the tuition bill.  Because of the nature of this payment, many students use this for the personal expenses portion of college costs.  Work-study funds must be used for college related costs.

Work-study funds require the student to work.

Remember that the work-study portion of the financial aid package simply provides the student the opportunity to earn that amount of money during the year while working for minimum wage.  Look carefully at the amount with your student and do some math.  Divide the amount by the hourly amount at minimum wage and by the number of weeks in the semester. (Remember that the amount in your financial aid package is probably a yearly amount, not a semester amount.)  Discuss with your student how realistic it will be for him to work that number of hours per week while being a full time student.  When your student applies for a campus job, he will need to keep in mind how many hours he should be working in order to earn the amount in his aid package.

Work-study funds are limited.

Students are limited to the amount of work-study funds in the financial aid package.  Once the student has earned that amount, he will not be able to earn more.

Work-study jobs are varied.

Work-study jobs often include many different types of jobs.  Some are premium jobs that are highly competitive.  Other jobs may be less desirable or interesting, but will still earn the student the necessary funds.  First-year students, especially, should be prepared to do some jobs that are less interesting.  Many returning students who had work-study jobs the previous year will have priority to keep the same job.  A student who is not willing to do whatever is available may not be able to earn his full work-study allocation.  This is a good time to remember that the work-study portion of the financial aid package is merely a promise, on the part of the institution, to provide an opportunity for the student to earn a certain amount of money on campus.

Work-study jobs may have restrictions.

Some colleges may place restrictions on the number of hours per week that a student may work or may restrict work hours for students whose GPA (grade point average) places them in academic jeopardy.  Encourage your student to ask the college work-study employment office lots of questions if he is unsure.

Work-study funds are fully taxable.

And finally, students need to remember that their work-study wages are fully taxable as income.

The Federal Work Study program is a tremendous financial help to many, many students.  However, it is important that students, and their parents, look carefully at this portion of the financial aid package to have a realistic picture of what it means.

6 thoughts on “My College Student Received His Financial Aid Package, But What is Federal Work Study?”

  1. HazardousPaste –

    Great suggestion. There are often non-work study jobs available on campus that might either pay more or be more worthwhile. Workstudy might be a good option for students for the first year while they make connections, become established, and explore other options.

    Thanks for adding to the discussion.


  2. Just something to add; depending on your child’s area of study there might be better paying/more interesting jobs available. For example, I was awarded work study but instead chose to work in a physics lab (I majored in Physics). This was not a work study program, but it paid more, was considerably more relevant to my interests, and turned into a full-time job after graduation. Work study jobs almost certainly do not have these advantages.

    The downside is usually finding a position such as this. In my situation I had to ask around the department to see who was looking for help.

    Just something to think about!

  3. Beachcomber –
    I’m sure in another 10 years, the whole college financing area is going to have to change. The costs continue to rise and families will need some way to meet the need. In the meantime, enjoy instilling in him the values that will be important to him when he goes away.


  4. I also found your blog through 31DBBB. Great info. My son won’t be ready for college for another 10 years but I’m sure by then getting financial aide will be different.

  5. I found you through 31SBBB, what a fantastic concept for a blog! My parents and could have used this when I went to school. I am going to pass this off to friends plus I think there are a couple of online magazines that you should be submitting your articles to, drop me a line and I can give you the urls.


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