What is Federal Work-Study?

Learn about federal work-study, its purpose, eligibility, benefits, potential challenges, and the influence on your career path.

Federal Work-Study

Are you a student grappling with the rising costs of higher education? You’re not alone!

Data from the College Board show that the average cost of tuition and fees at a public four-year institution has increased by over 124% in the last three decades.

Average Published Tuition and Fees in 2022 Dollars by Sector, 1992-93 to 2022-23

This makes managing finances a daunting task. Fortunately, there’s a federal aid resource you may have yet to consider: the Federal Work-Study. This program provides a chance not just to make money for educational expenses but also to acquire valuable work skills.

Let’s dive into the details and get you informed! To start off, let’s clarify what we mean when we talk about the federal work-study program.

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What is Federal Work-Study and Why It Matters?

The Federal Work-Study (FWS) program is a part-time employment initiative designed for undergraduate and graduate students with financial needs. The program allows you to earn money to help pay for educational expenses while gaining work experience.

The FWS program dates back to 1964 as part of the Economic Opportunity Act. Over the years, it has evolved, becoming a critical component of the financial aid landscape, helping millions of students fund their education while developing valuable job skills.

FAFSA: Your First Step Towards Federal Work-Study

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a crucial part of the FWS program. 

Filling out the FAFSA is the first step in determining your eligibility for federal financial aid, including work-study. It helps calculate your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) – a significant factor in determining how much work-study aid you may receive. 

Remember, no FAFSA, no FWA.

For a more detailed guide on how to fill in the FAFSA form, check out our step-by-step walkthrough.

Eligibility and Application Process

The federal work-study program might sound great, but how do you know if you’re eligible? 

Here’s what you need to know:

You must demonstrate financial need.

You must be a U.S. citizen, a U.S. national, or an eligible non-citizen.

You must have a valid Social Security number (students from the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, or the Republic of Palau are an exception).

You must be enrolled or accepted as a regular student in an eligible degree or certificate program.

You must maintain satisfactory academic progress.

And how do you apply? It’s all about the FAFSA:

1. Complete and submit the FAFSA

This is your ticket into the world of federal student aid. Remember to do it early; aid is often given on a first-come, first-served basis.

2. Check the FWS box

Make sure to indicate your interest in FWS on the FAFSA. If you skip this part, you might miss out.

FAFSA - FWS Box Screenshot

3. Review your Student Aid Report

This report summarizes the data you provided on the FAFSA and will let you know if you’re eligible for FWS.

4. Confirm with your school's financial aid office

Once you’ve been awarded FWS, contact your school’s financial assistance office for next steps.

Remember, the early bird gets the worm. Applying early could increase your chances of securing a position, as FWS funds are limited.

Job Landscape in Federal Work-Study

Once you’ve accepted federal work-study aid, you’ll need to find a work-study job. These can be both on-campus and off-campus.

  • On-campus jobs might include assisting in a research lab, working at the university library, or helping in the administrative office. 
  • Off-campus jobs, often tied to public interest or related to your field of study, can also be part of the mix. You might find yourself working for a non-profit organization or a public agency, contributing to the betterment of your community.

Finding and applying for work-study jobs can be smooth with the proper guidance. Your school’s financial aid office or the student employment office can help you identify available positions. Some schools also provide online job portals for students to pursue.

Keep in mind that it’s advantageous to choose work that’s related to your course of study. This allows you to gain relevant experience and skills that could benefit your future career.

The Financial Perks of Federal Work-Study: Earnings and Benefits

A federal work-study program guarantees you at least the current federal minimum wage. However, the amount you earn can vary depending on your job and the skills it requires. 

Here’s how it works:

  • Your total work-study award depends on when you apply, your financial need, and your school’s funding level.
  • You’ll receive a paycheck at least once a month. Your school will pay you directly unless you request that the school send your payments directly to your bank account or use the money to pay for your education-related charges.

One key advantage of federal work-study earnings is that they don’t count against you on your next year’s FAFSA. 

That’s right! Unlike other forms of student employment, the money you earn from a work-study job doesn’t reduce your eligibility for financial aid.

Potential Drawbacks of Federal Work-Study Programs

Like any program, the federal work-study program is not without its limitations. Understanding these can help you make an informed decision about whether FWS is the right path for you.

First, the FWS program operates on limited funds. This means not every student who qualifies will receive an offer. Additionally, the amount of work-study aid you're eligible for depends on your level of financial need and the funding level of your school.

Second, the availability of jobs may not always align with your interests or field of study. Finding the right work-study job can sometimes be challenging and competitive.

Another potential drawback is the balance between work and study. Having a job while going to school full-time can be demanding. If not managed well, it could impact your academic performance.

Lastly, the continuity of your job and funding is not guaranteed. Changes in your financial situation, school funding, or program availability can influence your participation in the FWS program.

The Impact of Federal Work Study on Career Prospects

Despite these challenges, the potential impact of the federal work-study program on career prospects is significant. The program can act as a stepping stone into the professional world, equipping you with valuable experience and skills.

Here are some ways to leverage your work-study experience for future career opportunities:

Choose Relevant Jobs

Try to select jobs that align with your career goals. This way, you're building relevant experience and skills that future employers will value.


Your work-study job is a fantastic opportunity to connect with professionals in your field. Don't be shy; network and build those relationships!

Be Proactive

Take the initiative to learn and grow in your role. Show enthusiasm and willingness to take on new tasks. This can open doors to further opportunities.

Reflect on Skills

Make a habit of reflecting on what you've learned and how it could be valuable in your future career. This can provide great material for future job applications and interviews.

Adapting to the New Normal: Federal Work-Study in the Remote Learning Era

The world is changing, and with it, the nature of education. The rise of remote learning has necessitated an evolution in the federal work-study Program. 

The good news? FWS programs have proven agile, adapting to fit students’ needs in various learning environments.

Remote work-study positions have emerged, with jobs that can be performed from the comfort of your home. These may include tasks like online research, virtual tutoring, administrative duties, or even social media management for your institution.

Frequently Asked Questions

The amount you can earn through Federal Work-Study (FWS) depends on several factors. First, your total FWS award depends on your level of financial need, the amount of other aid you receive, and the availability of work-study funds at your school.

When you receive your financial aid award letter from your school, it will specify how much work-study money you’re eligible to earn for that academic year. However, it’s important to note that this is a maximum amount — it’s not guaranteed. You’ll only earn this money if you secure a work-study job and work the necessary hours.

As for your hourly wage, it will be at least the federal minimum wage, but it may be higher depending on the type of work you do and the skills required. 

Undergraduates are paid by the hour, while graduate and professional students can be paid hourly or on salary, depending on the position.

One of the benefits of earning money through a Federal Work-Study job is that these earnings do not count against you when you fill out your FAFSA form for the next academic year.

When you report your income on the FAFSA, you’ll include the money you earned through work-study in your total revenue for the year. However, the FAFSA form asks for this information separately, and this amount is subtracted from your total income when your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is calculated.

This means that, unlike other income, money earned through work-study won’t reduce your eligibility for financial aid in the future. This is a significant advantage of FWS jobs over other part-time jobs.

Remember, though, that you must file a FAFSA form each year to remain eligible for Federal Work-Study and other types of financial aid.

If you’re not eligible for federal work-study due to lack of financial need or because your school doesn’t participate, don’t worry. You can still get institutional work-study, which involves departments or academic offices hiring students with university funds.

Moreover, not qualifying for federal work-study won’t stop you from exploring other part-time job options while you’re in college.


The blend of income, work experience, and safeguarding future student aid makes the federal work-study Program a compelling choice for eligible students. 

Yes, there are potential drawbacks, and yes, the job may be challenging. But remember, you’re not just earning – you’re learning. 

So, what’s the next step? 

It’s simple – complete your FAFSA, check your eligibility, and start exploring the world of Federal Work-Study.

Take the first step today!

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