How to enroll in a federal work-study program
Paying for school is one of the first considerations students and their parents make when discussions of college begin. Fortunately, there are several types of resources to help students pay for college. A clear majority of college students benefit from at least one type of financial aid, with 86% receiving grants, scholarships, loans, and work-study.
Work-study provides opportunities for students in financial need to work during the semester to earn extra money to help pay for their tuition, books, housing, transportation, and living expenses.
Work-study is a program overseen by the U.S. Department of Education. Students qualify based on the information they provided on their Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) application. Work-study provides opportunities for students in financial need to work during the semester to earn extra money to help pay for their tuition, books, housing, transportation, and living expenses. It is important to understand that a work-study job is not the same as getting a part-time job – there are specific criteria students have to meet to receive this kind of financial aid.
What is federal work-study?
The federal work-study program is a great opportunity for those who qualify. Unlike traditional part-time jobs, employers offer work-study positions with hours that fit around your school schedule. This makes it easier for students to achieve a healthy work-life balance and still keep up with their studies.
If you are awarded a work-study opportunity, the working hours cannot exceed your total work-study award. Undergraduate and graduate students with a financial need are eligible to apply through the FAFSA. Both full- and part-time students can apply. If you want to pursue work-study, first check if your school participates in the program, as not all schools do.
Common misconceptions about work-study
Work-study is not as straightforward as some students may think. There are rules associated with how much you can earn and the timeframe in which you work.
One of the biggest misconceptions about work-study is that this award guarantees you a job. This is not how the program works. You have to actively find a job which, depending on factors like location, may be limited.
Students are expected to treat their work-study position like any other job, so expect to work a full shift and submit timesheets to get paid, much like a traditional job.
Some students think that they can get paid while they do their homework. This is also not true. Students are expected to treat their work-study position like any other job, so expect to work a full shift and submit timesheets to get paid, much like a traditional job.
It is also important to understand that work-study awards are not renewed automatically. Work-study functions like a grant, meaning your award lasts only one semester. This means you can change jobs between semesters or need to find another means of aid if your next application is not accepted.
Where are work-study jobs located?
Most federal work-study jobs are found on campus. In some situations, they may be offered by organizations off campus. Participating employers off campus are usually nonprofit organizations, public agencies, and occasionally for-profit private businesses. Common jobs include:
- library postings
- administrative positions
- computer lab support
Colleges often try to match students with jobs relating to their major. This benefit allows you to get hands-on experience, grow your knowledge, and network with professionals in your field. One of the biggest advantages to postings like these is your ability to add them to your resume upon graduation.
How much does work-study pay?
Work-study pay has to be at least equal to the federal minimum wage. Depending upon the type of job, along with your skills and qualifications, you may be paid more. Undergraduates are typically paid an hourly rate, while graduate students can receive a salary. A typical award is roughly $1,550 per year.
Students often wonder if their previous experience allows them to negotiate a higher rate of pay. This is sometimes possible. If you are awarded $1,500 for the semester, you cannot earn more than that amount. When you receive your award package, the amount allotted for work-study is listed with previous grants you have received. However, if your school allows you to negotiate your hourly rate, you could fulfill this amount earlier in the semester and work fewer hours for the same amount of money.
Securing a federal work-study program step by step
Work-study is an exclusive form of financial aid. Compared to the 22 million students who received Pell Grants in the 2017-2018 academic year, just 600,000 qualified for work-study. To apply for federal work-study, take the following steps:
- fill out the FAFSA – check “yes” on the work-study question
- receive notification with your school’s award package, generally within 2 weeks
- apply for jobs through your college employment office, career services website, individual department websites
- apply for jobs off-campus that are relevant to your degree program
Fellowships and assistantships
Advanced degree programs can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Fellowships and assistantships are great opportunities for graduate students to help pay for their master’s degree or Ph.D. program.
What is an assistantship?
An assistantship is similar to a classic work-study posting. The difference is that you find work directly related to your academic focus in either a teaching or research capacity. It is common for assistant teachers to run undergraduate classrooms, teach students, and grade papers. Others find work contributing to a specialized area in their degree program. For example, if you are pursuing a degree in public policy, your assistantship may include researching a specific issue like housing or transportation.
Hiring for assistantships is usually done by a professor or administrator in your school’s graduate program.
Hiring for assistantships is usually done by a professor or administrator in your school’s graduate program. These positions are often competitive, so it is important to be diligent when seeking opportunities. Pay rates are typically higher than undergraduate work-study programs, but standards can vary depending on where you go to school. Be sure to polish your resume and start networking if you want to get an assistantship.
What is a fellowship?
This award is usually merit-based and short-term, often lasting only a few months. Fellowships are typically offered to graduate students, although in some instances this extends to undergraduate students. This award can be likened to a grant, which means you do not pay the money back. Fellowship awards can be used for any expenses, not just tuition, making them less restrictive than other grant awards.
Applying for a fellowship takes effort, but taking the time can prove worthwhile. Keep in mind the following points when applying:
- start early and do not rush through the process
- learn how the process works, including pre-requisite paperwork
- note all submission dates
- gather your resume, transcripts, and letters of recommendation
- plan your fellowship proposal in detail
- carefully craft your personal statement and be sure to go over it several times
Pros and cons of assistantships
The benefits associated with assistantships are many. Financially, you benefit through tuition waivers and living stipends. You also incur less debt since you are borrowing smaller loans. Professionally, you gain experience through teaching or researching, depending upon your position.
There may also be some drawbacks associated with pursuing assistantships. Pay is lower than what you may earn in normal job, so your living expenses may not be fully covered. Assistantships can require a large time commitment, resulting is less autonomy than you might have with a fellowship.
Pros and cons of fellowships
With a fellowship, you have the opportunity to pursue specific academic interests. These awards sometimes involve a lower time commitment and offer a higher degree of freedom. In some cases, fellowship awardees also receive healthcare, housing, or student loan repayment. The ability to gain experience, network with other professionals, and receive mentoring opportunities are also key advantages to fellowships.
The biggest drawback associated with fellowships is the fact they are difficult to win. As they are based on accomplishments or the applicant’s unique future plans, the application process is rigorous. Additionally, the stipends offered do not typically equate to what could be earned in a similar, salaried position.
Alternatives to work-study positions
If you are unable to secure work-study, you can pursue work in a more traditional means to pay your way through school. You can look for a job on-campus, at a local business, or in academic departments. Working in an academic department independent of a work-study allows students to commit to an area of interest while building a professional network.
Work-study is a terrific opportunity to supplement your Pell Grant, scholarships, or other awards. The first step to a work-study posting is to file your FAFSA. The sooner you apply, the sooner you know what awards you have been granted and can begin planning for your future.