Whether you are eligible for the federal work-study program, which provides jobs for students with financial need, depends on if you meet base eligibility requirements to receive financial aid. It also depends on if your school participates in the program (not all schools do). Read on for more information about the program and how to qualify.
What Is Work-Study?
The federal work-study program allows students with financial need to secure part-time employment to help them to earn extra money to pay for education expenses. Work-study encourages community service work and work related to the student’s course of academic study. The program is administered by participating schools, so you can check with your school’s financial aid office to find out if the school participates.
Jobs are available both on and off campus. If you work on campus, you will likely work for your school. If you work off campus, your job might be with a private nonprofit organization or a public agency and the work will likely be focused on the public interest. Or, you might work with a private, for-profit business in a job that is relevant to your course of study.
💡 Quick Tip: When shopping for a private student loan lender, look for benefits that help lower your monthly payment.
Who Is Eligible for Work-Study?
Several factors determine a student’s work-study program eligibility, including their family’s income and their enrollment status. The school’s financial aid budget will also factor into a student’s overall financial aid award.
Not all schools participate in the federal work-study program. There are about 3,400 schools participating in the program.
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How Do Students Apply for Work-Study?
To apply for work-study, you must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). As you fill out the FAFSA, you’ll need to indicate that you would like to be considered for work-study. Selecting this option, however, doesn’t automatically mean that you will receive work-study as part of your financial aid package. A student’s work-study allotment will depend on a few factors, including when they apply, their level of financial need, and the school’s funding level.
If you’re interested in receiving work-study, you may want to file your FAFSA as early as possible, since aid is often determined on a first-come, first-served basis.
If you receive work-study, your allocation will be included as a part of your financial aid award. You’re not obligated to accept it. For many students, however, it makes sense to participate in the work-study program, especially if it means lessening the financial burden of attending school and taking out fewer student loans.
After being awarded work-study, you may still have to apply for and secure your own employment — not every school will assign a job at the same time as they offer the financial aid award.
While an aid award may list a specific amount for work-study, that doesn’t mean the student will receive the entire amount, either. Students may still need to find a job that allows them to work enough hours to earn that much money.
If you receive a work-study allocation as part of your financial aid package and are able to secure a job that meets the program requirements, you will earn at least the federal minimum wage (if not more, depending on the state’s minimum wage). Money will generally be earned in a standard paycheck — and universities must pay students monthly at the very least.
Since tuition bills are usually due at the beginning of the semester, work-study funds typically aren’t applied directly to tuition bills. Students can use their own discretion to decide what to use their work-study funds for — some may want to pay for things like living expenses, books, or transportation costs.
💡 Quick Tip: Even if you don’t think you qualify for financial aid, you should fill out the FAFSA form. Many schools require it for merit-based scholarships, too. You can submit it as early as Oct. 1.
Is Work-Study Income Taxed?
The money earned through the work-study program will be subject to state and federal income taxes. However, if you are concerned that earning money through the work-study program will affect your eligibility for other types of financial aid in future years, you can cross that stressor off your list.
One perk of the work-study program is that earnings won’t count toward income totals when filling out the FAFSA form. Earnings through the program are backed off the FAFSA, so they shouldn’t jeopardize any future financial aid awards.
When filing the FAFSA every year, you’ll want to clearly indicate continued interest in receiving work-study as part of the financial aid package. Students are not guaranteed work-study each year.
How Do I Find a Work-Study Job?
Some schools may match work-study students with a job. In other cases, students may have to apply for and secure employment on their own. Many work-study jobs can be found on campus, and a lot of schools have online portals where students can look for and apply to work-study jobs.
Jobs that may qualify for the work-study program include research assistantships, teaching assistant positions, and administrative duties in a campus office. Off-campus work-study jobs, such as community service jobs or tutoring, may be available through nonprofit organizations and businesses located in the area.
What Can I Do If I Don’t Qualify for Work-Study?
Students who don’t qualify for work-study may want to consider other options to earn some extra money.
One option could be to get a part-time job that isn’t part of the work-study program. College towns usually have plenty of coffee shops and restaurants that are looking for part-time or seasonal employees. Managers or owners may be willing to work with student-employees to build their work schedule around classes.
Those who aren’t interested in formal employment could try something more flexible, like babysitting. The work is often in the evening, and you might have a bit of time to do some homework or assigned reading after you’ve put the kids to bed.
Another idea is to pick up a side hustle, perhaps related to your major. For example someone studying journalism or writing could try sending out a few pitches for freelance writing assignments. A graphic designer could take on a few side projects.
A side hustle allows students to pick something that fits with their skills and time. This way, there’s still plenty of time to focus on schoolwork.
Just keep in mind that any money earned outside of the work-study program will be reflected as income when filing the FAFSA the following year and could affect eligibility for aid.
Managing Finances After Graduation
After graduating, you will, ideally, be in a better financial position than you were as a student taking out loans. Depending on your earning potential and credit history, it may be possible to lower your interest rate by refinancing your student loans with a private lender. Just keep in mind that when you refinance federal loans, they lose eligibility for federal repayment programs and protections like deferment and forbearance.
Some private lenders, however, may offer some protections to their borrowers, such as unemployment protection, which allows borrowers to temporarily pause payments if they lose their jobs.
If refinancing doesn’t make sense right when you graduate, you might consider it once you’re on more solid financial footing.
The federal work-study program offers part-time employment to students who qualify. Eligibility for the program is determined by a variety of factors, including your family’s income and your enrollment status. When you apply for aid may also impact whether or not you are awarded work-study, as it is often given out on a first-come, first-served basis.
If you’ve exhausted all federal student aid options, no-fee private student loans from SoFi can help you pay for school. The online application process is easy, and you can see rates and terms in just minutes. Repayment plans are flexible, so you can find an option that works for your financial plan and budget.
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