Consider the Federal Work-Study Program

The Federal Work-Study Program, also known as FWSP or "Work-Study," is a way for some financial aid recipients to secure part-time employment to earn money while enrolled in college. Through Work-Study, the federal government pays from 50% to 100% of an eligible student's wages, making it easier for a college or university to hire a student and for a student to find a job on or near campus.

If you qualify for work-study, you will be informed of it (and of your eligibility amount) on your financial aid award letter. Those participating in Work-Study programs must be full-time students, must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents, and must qualify for federal financial aid. Most often, actual jobs you'll apply for are open to both Work-Study and other students, but those on the Work-Study program will be hired first. If you work on campus, you'll usually be an employee of the school. Large universities have a wide variety of Work-Study job opportunities, including the following:

  • Food service in a dormitory cafeteria

  • After-hours security in classroom buildings

  • Cleaning of science labs or classrooms

  • Administrative assistant duties for a student-governing body

  • Retail work in university shops and college bookstores

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. Sometimes, a student can create a niche position for a private employer that has particular interest to him or her. For example, a design student might get hired by a designer to purchase fabrics, or an architecture student might get same computer drafting work for an architecture firm. Most universities don't actively promote these Work-Study arrangements, but if you're willing to do some legwork, you might be surprised at what you find and how it can benefit your overall goals.

The Federal Work-Study Program comes with strict eligibility rules for both students and employers. You'll find various forms and procedures at your school's financial aid office.

Whoever your employer is, you'll be paid an hourly wage — the government prohibits Work-Study recipients from being paid on commission. The law states that you must be paid at least once a month, and that your wages must equal at least the current federal minimum wage (they might be higher for jobs that require more skills). The amount you earn can't exceed your total Work-Study award. When deciding how many hours per week you will work, your employer or financial aid administrator will consider your class schedule and grades or GPA. Most employers also consider how much Work-Study money the government has given you so that the total hours you work will get you to the maximum amount you can earn a few days or weeks before the end of each semester you are in the program.