Federal Work-Study Program

what to expectWhen 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.

Getting Fired


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.


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