What is Work Study?

Many financial aid awards include work study. Typically work study is awarded in a dollar amount per academic term, for example $1,000 per quarter. Which leaves a lot of people wondering what it means and how you get it.

First and foremost, work study falls under the “self-help” category of financial aid: it’s a job that the student needs to get. These jobs may be on-campus or off-campus and are required to pay at least minimum wage; the main commonality is that they’re subsidized by the Department of Education or, in some cases, the state.

Second, being offered work study is not the same as being offered a job. The student will still have to find a work study job on campus. Depending on the school, that may be easy or difficult. Every school handles work study differently, so it’s up to the student to learn what they need to do to land a work study job.

Work study is also capped at the dollar amount offered. Let’s say you have $1,000 per quarter in work study and you find a work study job paying $12 per hour. If you work 10 hours per week, you will have used up your work study after just over eight weeks. (That’s not bad considering that what happens after eight weeks is largely papers and finals.) But students needing to earn more than their work study allowance might need to find another job, or at least find out from their employer if they can continue working there for pay once their work study allowance has been earned.

If this sounds like extra hassle for the same benefits as a regular job, here’s a reason why you might want to pursue a work study job first: Work study earnings are subtracted from the student’s income on the FAFSA, so they will not reduce future financial aid. With many states’ minimum wages exceeding $10 per hour, a student who works 10 hours per week during the school year and full-time during the summer could easily exceed the FAFSA’s student income protection allowance (currently $6,660). And every dollar of income above that threshold increases the student’s EFC by 50 cents.

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