We get it. College can be crazy expensive. If you’re currently a college student or are in the process of applying to school, you’re also probably in the process of applying for financial aid to help cover costs like tuition, books, and room and board.
There are a variety of financial aid options for students—the most prominent being through the federal government. Financial aid includes grants, scholarships, federal and private student loans, and work-study.
What Is Work-Study?
Federal Work-Study is a program that provides part-time jobs for college students with financial need. It allows 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 check with your school’s financial aid office to find out if your school participates.
Jobs are typically available both on- and off-campus. If you work off campus, you’ll most likely work for a private for-profit or nonprofit organization or a government agency . The work you do must be in the public
During the 2016 to 2017 school year, the federal government spent nearly $1 billion allocating
funds to colleges and universities for the program. Generally, the government funds make up approximately 75% of students’ wages. Educational institutions fund the remaining 25%, according to U.S. News & World Report.
Who Is Eligible for Work-Study?
Several factors determine your work-study program eligibility , including your family’s income and your enrollment status. Your school’s financial aid budget will also factor into your overall financial aid award.
Not all schools participate in the federal work-study program. According to the U.S. Department of Education, about 3,400 schools participate in the program.
How Do I 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 you would like to be considered for work-study. Selecting this option doesn’t automatically mean you will receive work-study as part of your financial aid package.
If you are interested in receiving work-study, you might want to file your FAFSA as early as possible, since aid is often determined on a first-come, first-served basis.
Your work-study allocation will be included as a part of your financial aid award. Your work-study allotment will depend on a few factors , including when you apply, your level of financial need, and the school’s funding level.
If you are awarded work-study as part of your financial aid offer, you are not required to accept it. For many students, 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.
Even if you’ve been awarded work-study, you may still have to apply for and secure your own employment —not every school will assign you a job at the same time you receive your financial aid award.
While your aid award may list a specific amount for work-study, that doesn’t mean you’ll receive the entire amount, either. You may still need to find a job that allows you to work enough hours to earn that much money.
If you receive a work-study allocation as part of your financial aid award and are able to secure a job that meets the program requirements, you’ll earn at least the federal minimum wage (if not more, depending on your state’s minimum wage). You’ll earn the money in the form of a standard paycheck , usually bi-weekly or weekly—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. How you use your work-study funds is up to you—you may want to pay for things like living expenses, books, or transportation costs.
The money you earn through the work-study program will still be subject to state and federal income taxes. If you’re concerned that earning money through the work-study program will affect your eligibility for other types of financial aid in future years—cross that stressor off your list.
One perk of the work-study program is that your earnings won’t count against you when you fill out the FAFSA form. Earnings through the program are backed off the FAFSA, so they shouldn’t jeopardize any future financial aid awards.
When you file your FAFSA every year, you will want to clearly indicate that you are still interested in receiving work-study as a portion of your financial aid package. You are not guaranteed work-study each year.
How Do I Find a Work-Study Job?
After you are awarded work-study, you may be matched with a job by your school or you may have to apply for and secure employment. 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 qualify for the work-study program often include research assistantships, teaching assistant positions, and administrative duties in a campus office. More work-study jobs may be found off campus for nonprofit organizations or other corporations—such as community service jobs or tutoring.
What Can I Do If I Don’t Qualify for Work-Study?
If you don’t qualify for work-study as a part of your federal financial aid award, there are other options for you to earn extra money.
One option could be to get a part-time job that isn’t part of the work-study program. Most college towns 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 you to build your work schedule around your class schedule.
If you aren’t interested in formal employment, you could try something more flexible, like offering your services as a babysitter. The work is usually flexible, and if you’re watching the kids in the evening while the parents enjoy a night on the town, you could have a bit of time to do some homework or assigned reading after you’ve put them to bed.
Another idea? You could pick up a side hustle. Find something you enjoy and you’ll have enough time to commit to. If you’re studying journalism or writing, you could try sending out a few pitches or pick up a few freelance writing assignments. If you are a skilled graphic designer, you might want to offer your services online.
The great thing about choosing your own side hustle is you can do exactly what you want, in the time you have to devote to it. So you’ll still have plenty of time to focus on your schoolwork while still making money on the side.
Any money you earn outside of the work-study program will be reflected in your income when you file your FAFSA the following year and could affect your eligibility for aid .
Managing Your Finances After Graduation
Even with work-study or a part-time gig, many students rely on student loans to fund a portion of their education. The average student graduates with $37,000 in student loans. Repaying that sum can be a tall order for even the most organized graduates. But there are options out there that can help you take control of your student loan debt. One such option is student loan refinancing, which could allow you to lower your interest rate.
After you graduate, you’ll hopefully be in a better financial position than you were when you borrowed your student loans. You have a new degree and are working in a new career. Depending on your earning potential and credit history, you could lower your interest rate when you refinance your student loans with a private lender.
At SoFi, you’re able to refinance both federal and private student loans, which could make managing your payments even simpler since you’ll only have to track and pay a single monthly payment. Know that when you refinance federal loans you will lose eligibility for federal repayment programs and protections like deferment and forbearance.
But more and more private lenders are offering protections to their borrowers, including SoFi. If you unexpectedly lose your job through no fault of your own, you could qualify for SoFi’s unemployment protection, which allows you to temporarily pause your payments.
To see what your loans could look like when you refinance, take a look at our easy-to-use student loan refinance calculator.
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SoFi Student Loan Refinance
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