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What to Know Before Applying to a “Work College”

These days, heading off to college often means scrimping and saving, and borrowing student loans to make ends meet. As you’re applying to college and trying to find the right fit, it could help to explore a variety of options.

At some work college programs in the United States, students work in exchange for free or discounted tuition. While these programs are limited, work colleges may be worth exploring.

What Is a Work College?

Work colleges are four-year institutions that require students to participate in mandatory work hours in addition to taking classes. These schools are overseen by the U.S. Department of Education and must meet strict requirements in order to operate as part of the work college consortium.

The goal of work colleges is to give students both work experience and a solid education at a reduced cost. Each of the colleges has its own mission and offers a different set of academic majors.

Most often, students hold jobs on-campus, but off-campus jobs can be an option as well. Not all of the work colleges cover the full cost of tuition for students. Instead, some schools cover a portion of tuition costs for students.

Applying to a Work College

Attending a work college can be appealing, but you may want to review the requirements for each of the universities individually. Eight colleges are currently members of the Work Colleges Consortium and each has its own eligibility qualifications.

Some schools offer limited programs of study, which may be worth considering as you look at different schools and ultimately select your college major.

Alice Lloyd College

Located in Pippa Passes, Kentucky, this college offers guaranteed tuition-free attendance to students from their service area, 108 counties located in Central Appalachia. All full-time students at Alice Lloyd are required to work 10 hours a week or 160 hours during each semester.

Berea College

Located in Berea, Kentucky, this college makes a promise to its students that no one will pay tuition. Students must work a minimum of 10 hours a week .

Bethany Global University

Programs at Bethany Global University , located in Bloomington, Minnesota, focus on training students for a career focused on Christian mission work. Students are typically required to work 15 hours a week. Undergrads will also spend 16 months working overseas, commissioned as missionaries.

Blackburn College

Located in Carlinville, Illinois, Blackburn College ’s work college program started in 1913. Current students must work a total of 160 hours per semester during the fall and spring semesters.

College of the Ozarks

In order to be admitted to the College of the Ozarks , students need to illustrate more than just academic ability. The school also bases its admissions decisions on financial need, character, and a student’s willingness to work.

The college, located in Point Lookout, Missouri, guarantees to meet the tuition costs for students who complete the work college program.

Paul Quinn College

Located in Dallas, Texas, the work college program at Paul Quinn College offers students the opportunity to graduate from college in four years with less than $10,000 in student loan debt.

In 2018, Paul Quinn College announced it would be opening a second location in Plano, Texas.

Sterling College

Programs at Sterling College, located in Vermont, are focused on environmental stewardship. At Sterling, students are paid a minimum of $1,650 for their work on campus, which is directed toward the overall cost of attending college.

Warren Wilson College

Hourly requirements for the work college program at Warren Wilson College vary by year. First-year students are required to work 10 hours a week, while students in their fourth-year can work up to 20 hours a week. In addition to acquiring marketable skills, students can earn $2,175 toward tuition annually .

Additional Options for Paying for College

With so few schools participating in the work college program in the United States, it may not be the right fit for everyone—and not all of these colleges participate in any student loan programs, whether federal, state, or private student loans.

There are other options available for students looking to finance their education. Some of these may include federal work-study and student loans, which can be applied at thousands of eligible schools nationwide.

As you prepare to head off to college, it may be worth considering the other options available to you and how you plan to pay for your education.

Federal Work-Study Program

This program provides part-time jobs to students who have demonstrated financial need. In order to receive work-study, students must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA ®) each year.

Not all schools participate in the work-study program, so it’s worth checking with the financial aid office at your school to see if they are one of the approximately 3,400 schools that participate .

Work-study is awarded as part of a qualifying student’s federal aid award. Students may still have to find and secure their own part-time job since not every school will assign students jobs at the same time they receive their award.

Typically, you’ll earn money in the form of a standard paycheck. At a minimum, universities must pay students monthly, but some could pay on a bi-weekly or weekly schedule.

While in most cases you’ll have to pay state and federal taxes on the money you earn, one major perk is that those earnings won’t be counted against you when you fill out the FAFSA form in following years.

This means that the money you earn as a part of the work-study program shouldn’t impact your future financial aid awards.

Other Federal Aid

Beyond work-study, completing the FAFSA may also put you in the running to receive other forms of federal aid. Among these may be federal student loans, scholarships, and grants.

Money received through scholarships or grants typically doesn’t need to be repaid, which can make them a valuable asset when paying for college. Some schools will use the information provided on the FAFSA to determine
and grant awards. To find scholarships and grants that you might be eligible for, take a look at one of the many online scholarship databases.

Some students may rely on federal student loans, either subsidized or unsubsidized, to help them pay for college. Like other federal aid, these are also awarded to students based on information provided on the FAFSA.

Subsidized federal student loans are awarded based on financial need. Students who receive this type of loan won’t be responsible for paying the interest that accrues while they are enrolled at least part-time, during the grace period, or during periods of deferment or forbearance.

Students with an unsubsidized federal student loan will be responsible for paying the interest that accrues on the loan while they are enrolled at least part-time, during the grace period, and during deferment or forbearance. If you have this kind of loan, you can choose to make interest-only payments on the loan while you are in school.

If that is not an option, the accrued interest will be capitalized on the loan when the periods of deferment ends. This means that the accrued interest will be added to the total balance of the loan. You’ll then be charged interest based on that new total.

For parents of undergraduate students and graduate students, there are also Direct PLUS Loans.

Private Student Loans

Private student loans may be able to help students fill the financing gap when federal aid, savings, and other scholarships or grants aren’t enough. Unlike federal student loans, private student loans are usually borrowed from private institutions like banks, credit unions, or online lenders like SoFi.

These loans generally require a credit check. For students with little to no credit history, this might mean that they need to rely on a student loan cosigner to borrow the loan.

Private loans will come with their own set of terms and conditions as determined by the lender. Before you commit to a private student loan, it’s worth closely reviewing the terms and conditions so you’re fully informed on things like interest rates and repayment options.

Private student loans may not be a good option for everyone, but if you decide it’s the right path for you, you could consider SoFi. The application process can be completed easily online and there are absolutely no fees. You can find out if you pre-qualify in just a few minutes.

Learn more about private student loans from SoFi If working your way through college isn’t enough.

Learn More

Checking Your Rates: To check the rates and terms you may qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. However, if you choose a product and continue your application, we will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit pull and may affect your credit.

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.

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SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change. SoFi Bank, N.A. and its lending products are not endorsed by or directly affiliated with any college or university unless otherwise disclosed.


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