What should I know about the Federal Work-Study program?

If you’re heading to college and need money for tuition and fees, there are plenty of options, grants, scholarships, and student loans being the most common. But one form of financial aid that often goes unnoticed is the Federal Work-Study Program.

The Federal Work-Study Program, also known as FWS or just Work-Study, is a government-funded program in the United States that assists students with the costs of attending college. The program is designed for students (both undergraduate and graduate) to work part-time hours in exchange for money to be deducted from tuition or fees. It’s not free money like grants or scholarships, but you don’t have to pay anything back like with student loans.

 Qualifying factors

Apply for FWS through FAFSA, just like you’re already doing for grants and student loans. Be sure to mark “yes” on the question asking if you’d like to be considered for Federal Work Study. Typically, if you have a financial need, you’re probably eligible for Work-Study money. And the money you qualify for is not counted when the Department of Education determines your financial need, so it doesn’t reduce other money you’re eligible for. However, your GPA may affect your eligibility, so keep those grades up! You’ll have to apply every year.

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Unfortunately for international students, U.S. citizens are the only ones eligible, unless they have an Arrival-Departure Record (I-94) from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration granting refugee/asylum status.

Job Expectations

While around 7% of all FWS students are helping the community, most of the jobs will be in your institution. You’ll work in the library, or do office work for a department, professor, or administrator (hint: you’ll make lots of copies). Your major will be taken into account when you’re being placed, so whatever you do should have some kind of relationship to what you want to do with your life, and many schools will have a Work-Study job fair where you can meet with representatives in the university or college who are looking for Work-Study students. Majoring in Athletic Training? You may be working in the gym or during football games. Planning to be a teacher? There are usually lots of tutoring and literacy positions.


Students are only assured of receiving federal minimum wage. You might make more, but the minimum is a mere $7.25 an hour. You may think, I can work any job for that, why would I do this? Well, that’s true; however, when you work as an FWS, your program manager or department head will be much more flexible with you as you arrange work hours around school hours. What job is willing to let you work a couple of hours between classes, and have off for all school holidays?

One thing you may want to keep in mind, though, is that your college or university may set its own limit on how many hours you can work, and how much money you can make, and that will trump whatever the government says you can do. Again, that may often be tied to grades or behavior – fail a course or get in trouble, and say goodbye to Work-Study.

Final Words

Many people work a job while they’re going to college; college is expensive and so is living. But with Federal Work-Study, you can do a job that gives you some experience in your field, or at least looks better on your resume than McDonald’s, and pay for college while you’re doing it. And, unlike many jobs you might take outside your institution, your supervisors will put your education first – no boss will fire you or dock your pay for missing work because you have class. Even if it’s minimum wage, it’s better than any other minimum wage job out there.

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