By Monica Flores. At your college, what do the graduate student Physics 101 teaching assistant, the literacy tutor at the preschool, the dining hall server, the in-house entomologist researcher, the vet school dog handler, or the barista at the student union coffeehouse have in common? They, alongside other workers that you’ll encounter throughout the campus, may be part of the work-study program, a nationwide, federally-funded opportunity for college students to work and study at the same time.
If you’re not familiar with work-study, other members of your incoming class are — it’s a common way for students with financial aid eligibility to earn money – even up to $7000+ in a year or more — toward their own education expenses.
What is Work-Study?
According to the Department of Education, the federally-funded Work-Study program “provides part-time jobs for undergraduate and graduate students with financial need, allowing them to earn money to help pay education expenses.” (https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/types/work-study)
Let’s say a student is taking 14 credits their first year (with this schedule they could anticipate spending 14 hours in class weekly, as well as an additional 28 hours studying). If eligible, then work-study might fill an additional 10-15 hours (i.e. three 4-hour shifts a week handling the dinner rush as a dish machine operator at a campus dining hall).
Work-study students earn extra income toward their expenses, and the program also helps campuses fulfill the tasks that are needed to shelter, feed, and provide services to their student body, as well as offer students positions in ongoing research, teaching, and other academic endeavors. Around 3400 post-secondary institutions currently participate in the program, and in 2015, the typical student with a federal work-study job earned $2619 for the year (“How America Pays for College,” by Sallie Mae). Students earn at least the federal minimum wage, which is $7.25 an hour in 2018.
In general, United States citizens with demonstrated financial need (typically through filling out the FAFSA) are able to qualify for federal work-study funds, depending on availability. Students must be a United States citizen, a United States national (including natives of American Samoa or Swains Island), or a United States permanent resident with an I-151, I-551, or I-551C card. Other student statuses are eligible, such as refugee, asylum granted, or victims of human trafficking, but students will want to consult with their Financial Aid officers or visit the Department of Education website in order to find more information.
History of Work-Study and How to Apply
First named as College Work-Study, this federally funded program from the Department of Education provides paid employment for students nationwide. Typically, students work for the college or university, or for a federal/state/local public agency, a private not-for-profit organization, or a private for-profit organization. At least 7% of funding throughout the country supports students who are working directly in community service, such as reading tutors for pre-K and K-5 children, math tutors for grades K-9, literacy tutors for family literacy projects, or emergency preparedness and response.
If you reach eligibility requirements, estimate your aid requirements here: https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/fafsa/estimate to gain some clarity on how much financial aid your family will qualify for toward your tuition expenses. Remember to submit your FAFSA and answer “yes” to the question “Are you interested in being considered for work-study?”
https://fafsa.ed.gov/fotw1718/help/workStudy.htm Upon receiving a financial aid package that includes work-study, you may then follow up with the financial aid office or human resources office at the campus you’re attending in order to search for a job that fits your schedule and background. Remember to create a resume if you haven’t already!
Pitfalls and Benefits of participating in Work-Study
- Students earn funds toward ongoing living expenses and tuition needs.
- Students earn the minimum federal wage. For example, if the student is earning an extra $300 a month after taxes, this goes a long way towards paying for the inevitable expenses that arise for students that need clothes, school supplies, extra food, gas money, a bus pass, tickets home, and more.
- Students gain work experience, learn how to balance competing needs, contribute to their campus life and in many cases increase their own academic opportunities. If a biology major finds work as a lab assistant, they gain first-hand knowledge that isn’t available from simply attending a lecture or watching a demonstration.
- Students become more connected to their campus by meeting other co-workers, other work-study students, professors, or other supervisors who help them become part of their campus community.
- Students without experience will face a learning curve of understanding their schedule, applying, interviewing for, and getting to their job on time.
- Students without time management may be challenged in managing school, work, social, and sleeping!
- Students may become overwhelmed during “crunch times” like exams, deadlines, or the end of the year.
- Income is taxable: students get taxed on earnings (just like any other taxable income) and file income taxes for that year.
- For some students, by earning more during the school year, they increase their own family’s expected contribution, which may then decrease their ability to earn scholarship/financial aid such as Pell Grants.
Tips on Managing your Time as a Work-Study Student
Many campuses have instituted student hourly work limitations, for example, students might work a maximum number of 20 hours per week during the academic law (or up to 40 hours per week during Thanksgiving, winter and spring breaks, or over the summer if they remain on campus). Students who manage their time well will be able to gain all the benefits of their work-study program.
If you’ve cleared the hurdle of applying for the FAFSA, being awarded a work-study amount, and finding a job, congratulations! Here are our top 5 tips for managing your time and staying sane during the school year:
- Block out your schedule so you have time to fulfill all your tasks. Showering, eating, and sleeping all require time, as do homework, attending class, studying, and the actual hours you’re on the job. Calculate which blocks of time you may reasonably handle, and stick with those time slots as much as possible.
- Tell your job supervisor in advance which days you know you’ll need to find alternates if there are exams or other schoolwork that require you in-person.
- Ask for recommendations or referrals from your current professors or the on-campus Work-Study officer in order to help you gain more work experience in your chosen major or field. For example, if you’re studying plants, choose a greenhouse assistant job. If you’re studying music, become an usher at the campus performing hall. If you’re interested in the sciences, get in the door as a researcher at one of the labs.
- Remember to file taxes for the year, the deadlines is usually April 15 of the next year! You might be able to use online tools to easily file electronically; however, regardless of how you file, you will still be required to report the total income you earned by working.
- Build the following as you increase your work experience: a resume (or LinkedIn profile) stating the skills you learned/used, a list of deliverables such as presentations, spreadsheets, demo reels, or reports that you may discuss in detail, and finally, consider creating a website for your personal “brand,” which might be as easy as a wordpress.com blog, or strikingly.com, or wix.com “portfolio” website.
Work-study makes sense for students who reach eligibility, file available paperwork, and are awarded a package. Other opportunities include part-time or contract work outside of the work-study program, and more. Visit our archives for more up-to-date information on how to succeed on your college journey, including finding out ways for you and your family to pay for your education.