What is the Federal Work Study Program?

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Updated August 4, 2020

The cost of higher education has skyrocketed in the past few decades, and paying for a degree often requires money from many sources like loans, parents, and the Federal Work Study Program. There are thousands of colleges all over the country that provide similar degrees and yet some of these institutions may cost more than $60,000 a year. Colleges once labeled as "affordable" now cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Supplementing Loan Levels

Loans often don't cover the full amount required for education, so it's important to consider alternative sources of funding to pay for the excess tuition. Applying for the Federal Work Study Program (FWS) helps students reduce the need for private loans to cover excess tuition costs. With current student loan debt levels reaching over a trillion dollars, current numbers suggest the average borrower will be burdened with at least $26,000 in school loan debt.

Finding a Participating College

An essential activity for financially strapped students before making a decision on which school to attend is figuring out if a chosen univeristy or college participates in the FWS program. Not every institution offers work study opportunities, with around 3,400 colleges offering students the chance to enroll. One of the benefits of finding a school that participates in the FWS program is that employers will work with a student's school schedule, which might not match traditional "9 to 5" working hours.

Financially Based Assistance

The FWS is not available to all students, and acceptance into the program is based upon the financial health of a student and his or her parents. The reason a student must be accepted is because part of a student's wages that are earned through the FWS program come from the government. About half of a student's paycheck from a work study job may come from the government, and guidelines require employers who offer FWS jobs to pay students no less than minimum wage.

Getting Approval for FWS

Early in the application process for college, a student must submit a form called the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) so that the government can determine whether a student is eligible for financial assistance. This application examines the income of a student and his or her parents to determine eligibility status. There is much competition for FWS jobs, and the government doesn't grant enrollment to everyone.

The FWS Job Experience

The jobs available to as a student who has been approved for FWS tend to vary and might be something like a tutoring job or might be a simple administrative job in one of the university's offices. A student will not work full-time under the FWS program and may be employed up to half-time while also attending school. Some students choose to get a second job; however, alternative employment may void a student's level of financial need under the program.

The Federal Work Study Program is an excellent alternative for students to reduce the loans required to finish school. Federal loans often don't cover the full cost of tuition, and choosing to work while in college is a vital way to reduce a student's debt burden upon graduating from college. Each dollar of tuition a student can earn prior to graduation makes it easier to get a fresh start upon graduation.

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