You’ve received your financial aid award letters from several colleges and you’re trying to compare them to see which one is best for you. In most financial aid packages, there will be a mix of public and institutional grants, loans, and maybe even scholarships. Underneath the grants, loans, and scholarships awarded, you may see another dollar amount listed. What does it mean to have federal work study? Here are the answers to some of your most burning questions.

Do You Get Paid for a Work Study?

Yes. The Federal Work-Study Program grants financial aid recipients an annual dollar amount   they may receive for working on campus and sometimes in their local community, in part-time jobs of no more than 20 hours per week during the school year. These jobs pay the student at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, although they will pay more if the state or local government requires it.

Students must find and apply for the jobs themselves. The kinds of jobs available range from working in the campus cafeteria to library aide work to departmental research of various kinds, museum jobs, and many more.

Listings of available jobs come out at the beginning of each fall term and sometimes even during the summer. They are usually filled quickly, so it is wise to check at your financial aid office as soon as you arrive on campus for the current roster of work-study vacancies. Make a list of those you qualify for and visit in person to apply.

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What Are the Advantages of Work-Study?

Work-study is advantageous for students in several ways. First, the jobs they find may be related to their studies, giving them valuable career-related experience. Second, jobs are automatically limited to no more than 20 hours per week, while an outside employer may demand more even if a student can’t handle the load in addition to classes. Third, most jobs are conveniently located on campus.

Students must remember that work-study jobs are real jobs, and people depend on them to do their parts. Don’t miss work, come in late, or take advantage of your position just because your boss understands that your studies come first. Doing your part will allow you to enjoy the advantages of the work-study program as long as it’s offered to you.

Are There Any Disadvantages to Work-Study?

One disadvantage is the limitation on pay. Students working for an outside employer are not limited to making the area minimum wage. Another disadvantage may be the times of day you’re able to work, depending on your class schedule. If you decide to have evening classes, but the work-study job you’re interested in requires evening hours, you may have to go for a job that isn’t your first choice.

If you take a work-study job as part of your federal student aid package, you can still work part-time elsewhere, but be careful not to earn so much money that you drive up your family’s expected family contribution on the next FAFSA. You may want to consider a ridesharing or other occasional gig – many students find these helpful in paying for incidental expenses, while not making huge demands on their time.