Federal Work-Study Program
When you start looking at colleges and see their hefty price tags, the thought of somehow affording higher education seems daunting. Tuition can run up into the tens of thousands of dollars, to say nothing of room and board, meal plans, living expenses, transportation, medical, and a host of other charges that have to be taken into consideration when planning a college education. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to chip away at those tuition prices. You may already know about grants and scholarships, but there is another method. We have put together some information on what you need to know about the Federal Work-Study Program.
Basics of the Federal Work-Study Program
Provided by the Department of Education, the Federal Work-Study Program (FWS) is designed to help students earn financial aid via a part-time work program. Like any financial aid program offered by the government, a student needs to apply for it with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), where the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and demonstrable financial consideration are taken into account when deciding if the student is eligible for the Work-Study Program.
The program is weighted in favor of truly needy students; while all college-bound students are encouraged to apply, only those who have sufficiently low EFCs and provable need (as well as meet other criteria, like being enrolled full-time) will be selected.
Applying for the FWS program is easy. Simply filling out the FAFSA and indicating on the application that you are interested in receiving federal work-study funds will put you in contention for acceptance.
- How early you submit your FAFSA
- The information on your FAFSA that determines your level of need
- The funding level of your school
That last point comes from a school that is interested in hosting the Federal Work-Study Program submitting a Fiscal Operations Report and Application to Participate (FISAP) to the Department of Education. The Department then allocates funds, based on the previous funding amount of the school, and the aggregate level of need of eligible students in the previous academic year.
For this reason, despite there being 3,400 schools in the country that participate in the Federal Work-Study Program, some colleges and universities do not have the budget to offer the program to their students.
The first point on the list – how early you submit your FAFSA – becomes crucial because of the limited funds available for the Work-Study Program and the resulting competitiveness among students to apply for work. There are many advantages to filing the FAFSA early, and the federal government will look favorably upon students who demonstrate the urgency of their financial need by getting their applications in early. Students are awarded with FWS Program acceptance on a first-come, first-served basis.
The FWS is available to both undergraduates and graduates, but the type of degree you are pursuing – a bachelor’s or a master’s – determines the kind of work you can do. Undergraduates are paid by the hour, while graduate students either get hourly payments or a salary, depending on the work they do. Regardless of your degree, your school is required to pay you at least once a month. Most schools will pay you via paycheck, but you can request the school simply apply your earnings against your tuition bill, or simply send the money straight to your bank account.
Once you are approved for federal work-study, and you speak to your college’s financial aid office and program director to understand the terms and limits of the award, you will still have to actually apply to various positions, either on campus or off campus, to get a job and go through the resume-interview process in the same way you would do for a “regular” job. Some schools even offer job fairs to help their students get started. Getting FWS approval simply means that you are allowed to seek employment; it is not employment in and of itself.
The type of work available to you depends on your degree, your skill set, and the school at which you are enrolled. At Virginia Commonwealth University, for example, you can apply for office and clerical jobs, research and laboratory support, tutoring, security and lifeguarding, etc. The school’s off-campus FWS arrangements cover “[performing] direct service to our community and citizens in need,” which is the stipulation of all off-campus FWS work. This could entail working at a library, in social services or public safety, or other avenues that allow students to “make a positive difference in their community.”
If your employer is not satisfied with your job performance, you can be dismissed from the position. In many ways, jobs obtained via the Federal Work-Study Program are much like “real world” jobs – you will have a timesheet, duties, responsibilities, and a superior to whom you must be accountable.
If your performance at the job declines to the point where you are fired, the relevant school officials representing financial aid and/or the Work-Study program will meet with you to determine whether your termination is enough to warrant permanent expulsion from the FWS program, or if there are mitigating circumstances that would allow you to transfer to another program.
Citing a study released by the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, a StudentAdvisor.com blog showed that full-time students who were approved for the Federal Work-Study Program earned an average of $2,200 in wages.
Work-Study, Taxes, and Financial Aid
Like with any other job, the wages you earn via the Federal Work-Study Program are taxable and must be declared as such. If you are using work-study for help pay for your tuition, you may be able to claim the Lifetime Learning or American Opportunity Tax Credits on that tuition. However, if you decline work-study and instead opt for financial aid in the form of grants and scholarships, then you will not be able to claim any tax credits.
Similarly, earnings from the FWS Program have to be reported on your FAFSA profile, but the FAFSA does not take those earnings into consideration when determining your financial need for the following academic year.
The Benefits of Federal Work-Study Over Other Jobs
In addition to the financial gains and appropriate work experience, many students choose to partake in the Federal Work-Study Program because it helps them build relationships with faculty and staff members in their various departments. This is a key benefit that the FWS program offers students that “regular” part-time work would not cover.
For reasons like this, the FWS Program is a popular choice among college students. At Cornell University, for example, nearly $3 million was earned by students as part of the school’s involvement in the program.
Also, since the federal government does not take your wages from the FWS Program into account when allocating your financial aid via the FAFSA, you actually save more on your tuition by using the FWS Program than you would if you sought employment outside of the program.
However, if you are concerned that your workload precludes working 20 hours a week, you can decline the option to enroll in the program (as simple as indicating your intention on the FAFSA), and instead choose to use the other federal loans offered by the government and determined by the level of need you specify on the FAFSA.
Using the Federal Work-Study Program to Pay for School
The Federal Work-Study Program is a great way to build up experience, make connections, and buff up your resume – all while you’re still in school. It gives you an immense head start over the thousands of other college students who don’t know about the program or its benefits, or who are just too unfocused to think about the bigger picture.
If you have questions about your eligibility for the Federal Work-Study Program, or how to find a school that offers the FWS Program over the summer, we are here to give you the information and resources you need. Keep browsing for more information.
Understanding College Costs
- Breaking down college costs by semester
- College Decision-Making and Financial Considerations
- EFC stands for¦? Know your acronyms.
- Paying for College: The Deer-in-the-Headlights, Head-in-the-Sand Approach
- Reviewing the Finances of a College Education
- The biggest student financial fear? Having to pay it all back.
- The Killer Cost of Textbooks, and Ways to Survive
- The second year costs
- The Summer Job Search
- What college costs should I consider outside of the COA?
- What Does College Really Cost?
- When Mother Nature Changes Your Finances
Saving for College
- Alternative ways to pay for college
- Are student loans an inevitable part of the college experience?
- Financial Aid Articles
- Financial Considerations - Where is the Money Going to Come From?
- Financial planning for college
- Financial stresses & College on the Cheap
- If the parents are divorced, who should serve as the custodial parent?
- Making College Affordable | Understanding College Budgeting and Expenses
- Preparing For Your Tuition Bill
- Reflecting on how we prepared for college costs
- Saving for College
- Saving for College: Calm and Cool for 17 years, then Panic in the Home Stretch
- Savings and Student Loans | Information for Parents
- Teaching Your College-Bound Teenager Financial Responsibility
- Tips for Parents: Saving, Paying and Borrowing for Your Child's College Education
- Top myths and mistakes in paying for college
Tuition and Bills
- Alternative ways to pay for college
- College Dorm Room Expenses
- Communication with the Financial Aid Office
- Comparing College Costs
- Control your freshman spending & you'll thank us later.
- Does student income affect financial aid? It could, so be prepared.
- Easing the Pain with Tuition Payment Plans
- FERPA and Your Tuition Bill
- First Semester Finances
- Housing Options for College Students
- Involving Your College Student in Paying for College
- Room and Board Advice
- Second Semester Payment Blues
- Second Semester Tuition Bills
- Spending Money on Visiting Your College Student
- Students confide their biggest mistakes. Ah, regret.
- The cost of textbooks
- The Extra Expensive First Month of College
- The Final Official Bill of College Costs
- The Hidden Costs of College Before They Even Leave
- Using Credit Cards to Pay for College
- Using the College Parent Network
- What's the best way to get your textbooks?
- Where is the Money?
Financial Decisions in College
- A Two Month Perspective on Empty-Nesting
- Buying the College Computer
- College Finances - Balance & Budgets
- College Study Abroad Costs
- College Summer Blues
- Deciding to Double Major
- Earning Big Bucks to Pay Big Bucks for College
- End of semester financial tips
- Financial Responsibility in College
- How a Divorce Might Affect a College Kid
- Lessons About Paying College Bills
- On-Campus Jobs Help Financially and Socially
- Paying for Study Abroad Programs
- Planning to Study Abroad
- Preparing for next semester finances
- Shopping and saving in college
- Strategies for College Families
- Studying Abroad: Passports, Transportation and Housing
- The College Student's Part-Time Job
- Two Kids, Two Tuition Bills
- We all make mistakes. What purchase do you regret?
- What We Learned From College Student #1, We Hope Will Benefit College Student #2
- Work-study Kind of a Misnomer
- Work-study vs. Part-time
- Working Hard for that Extra College Money
Credit Advice for Students
- Building Good Credit for College Students and Recent Graduates
- Credit Card Debt Management for College Students
- Financial Literacy for College Students
- Give Yourself a Financial Check-Up Once a Year
- Practical tips for building good credit
- The Financially Savvy Student
- Tips on Managing Your Credit Score
- What is a Credit Report?
Paying for the Second Year
- Are you keeping track of how much you borrow?
- College Costs Keep Rising
- College Tax Benefit News
- Deciding to Transfer Colleges
- Paying for the Second Year of College?
- Preparing College Finances
- Separation Causes Emotional and Financial Worries
- The End of Freshman Year
- Tightening College Finances
- Why you should pay off lingering student account balances
Paying for Grad School
- A Financial Aid Countdown for Graduate School
- Choose the right student loans, pay back less
- Financial aid advice for adult students
- Financial Aid Options for Graduate School
- Getting into Graduate School
Other College Finance Topics