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When you apply for federal financial aid, one of the various awards you may be offered is a federal work-study assignment. This program has been around since Congress implemented it in 1964 and provides part-time work to students who need help covering the cost of their college education. Work-study opportunities won’t pay for everything, but they can take a bite out of your school bill and offer you an opportunity to gain valuable experience.

Getting work-study as federal student aid

When you fill out your FAFSA, make sure you check the box that asks if you are interested in work-study as part of your financial aid package. If you don’t check it, you can’t be considered for a position and you’ll be out of luck until you submit your forms for next year.

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What this type of federal financial aid pays

Work-study positions must pay you at least minimum wage, and may even pay more depending on what the job entails. The total amount you’re eligible to earn depends on when you apply for aid, your level of need, and the amount of funding your school has available.

Most students are awarded somewhere between $1,500 to $1,800 a semester, but you can’t earn more than the amount that’s awarded to you — once you’ve hit your cap, your work-study ends. However, your employer is free to offer you an ongoing job if they choose, so doing your job well and making a good impression is certainly in your best interest.

Unlike a federal Pell Grant or the FSEOG, you won’t get work-study funds for free — you will have to work for them!

Where you might work
Work-study employers tend to be flexible and schedule your work hours around your class and study schedule. Generally speaking, work-study positions entail 10 to 20 hours a week of scheduled work, either in a campus-based service position or in an off-campus job working in a non-profit community-service-oriented agency. Typical work-study jobs include tutoring or working in the school’s cafeteria, library, or bookstore.

The federal government requires that at least 7 percent of the funds they provide to schools for federal work-study be used for community-service positions, but with 93 percent of the funds’ use up to the school, you may be offered a position doing just about anything. However, schools are supposed to offer work-study positions that relate to your course of study as much as possible.

Funds don’t count against you for federal student aid

One of the nice things about your earnings under federal work-study is that they don’t count against you when you apply for financial aid for the next year. (However, earnings you get from any other type of work might.) You’ll be paid at least once a month and you can arrange to have the money given directly to you, put in your bank, or even paid directly to the school on your behalf.

Work-study jobs can offer more than just a few dollars in the bank. They could provide valuable work experience, as well as an opportunity to begin networking with people who could become potential long-term employers — or lead you to others who may be. At the very least, a work-study position will give you more experience to add to your resume!