5 Things You Should Know Before Accepting Federal Work-Study

federal work study

Will you be working while studying at your college under the federal work-study (FWS) program? About 3,400 postsecondary institutions participate and award FWS as part of an eligible student’s financial aid package according to the U.S. Department of Education (ED) National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

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Before you start working, here are 5 things you should know:

1. A federal work-study award can be a job on or off campus.

The federal work-study (FWS) program is a federal financial aid job program regulated by the federal government. Colleges can award FWS funds based on financial need as calculated by the U.S. Department of Education from information reported on the student’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

A college may offer employment in any department, academic or nonacademic. Positions available may include clerical positions, tutoring, lab research or computer lab assistant, tour guide, usher at public events, food or cafeteria worker, library assistant, and child care worker. Colleges may also contract with off-campus employers.

Student Aid on the Web explains: 

“If you work on campus, you’ll usually work for your school. If you work off campus, your employer will usually be a private nonprofit organization or a public agency, and the work performed must be in the public interest.

Your school might have agreements with private for-profit employers for federal work-study jobs. This type of job must be relevant to your course of study (to the maximum extent possible). If you attend a career school, there might be further restrictions on the jobs you can be assigned.”

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2. Students have to apply for a particular federal work-study job.

Students who accept a FWS award apply for a work-study position usually through their college’s financial aid office.

According to Student Aid on the Web, “The program encourages community service work and work related to the recipient’s course of study.” FWS is not a paid internship even if the job is connected to your field and you gain work experience. Colleges may post on their website the jobs available. FWS jobs may require:

  • an interview and there may be other student applicants competing for the job
  • certain set hours which may or may not be compatible to your course schedule
  • you to work in a different field of study because of convenience or job availability

Before you sign up for your work-study job, make sure you can balance work and your studies. Academics is a full-time student’s primary job so weigh the work-study part-time job (extra money earned, job location, job responsibilities) against your classes (class time, assignments/papers/tests, study time) to see if it’s worth the effort.

When considering your schedule, include some downtime to avoid burnout and enjoy some campus activities and clubs. You can pass on FWS for one semester and when adjusted to campus life, accept it the next. Or you may find a better paying job elsewhere.

federal work study check3. Federal work-study recipients receive a paycheck.

Students receive their FWS award in the form of a paycheck from their college as they work. The entire FWS amount awarded does not reduce the college bill immediately in one lump sum, although Net Price Calculators on college websites and financial aid award letters sent to admitted students may subtract the total FWS as financial aid.

Student Aid on the Web describes the process:

“You’ll be paid by the hour if you’re an undergraduate. No FWS student may be paid by commission or fee. Your school must pay you directly (unless you direct otherwise) and at least monthly. Wages for the program must equal at least the current federal minimum wage but might be higher, depending on the type of work you do and the skills required.”

In a recent study, the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics found that full-time/full year dependent student recipients received an average amount of $2,200 in wages from their work-study jobs.

Federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. To earn a $2,200 FWS award for the school year based on federal minimum wage laws, students have to work about 300 hours. If the school has two semesters of 15 weeks each not counting finals week, a student working 10 hours per week would earn $72.50 each week. 

4. Federal work-study earned money is taxable.

FWS is not free money like a college grant or scholarship and it does not have to be paid back like a student loan. FWS money is income earned from work and is taxable. However, students’ future financial aid awards are not penalized for accepting current FWS awards. Earned FWS income is reported twice on the FAFSA. Once as wages and once as an exclusion from taxed income.

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5. Your federal work-study job ends when award amount is met.

Whether or not you are happy in your FWS job or your boss is satisfied with your job performance, when students receive paychecks up to the full amount of their award, the job ends. As Student Aid on the Web puts it, “The amount you earn can’t exceed your total FWS award.”

Any unearned money cannot be rolled over into next year’s award.

photoWendy David-Gaines is the author of Parents of College Students Survival Stories, and is known as POCSmom. She writes and lectures about the college process from forming a college list to attending college graduation. Wendy is also a College Insights expert on College Expert Panel. Connect with Wendy on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Photo: Utah State Library 

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