Federal work-study programs are part of Federal Student Aid, which is awarded based on financial need. Federal work-study programs provide employment to undergraduate and graduate students to help them earn money to pay for their education expenses.
The amount of money a student is eligible to make through work-study depends on their level of financial need, funding level of the particular school and when they apply for aid. One common complaint concerning work-study jobs is that the wages are too low. It is true that schools are only required to pay students the current federal minimum wage, but some jobs do pay more depending on the type of work and skills required. If you have desirable skills, such as certain computer skills, you may be paid significantly more than minimum wage.
Undergraduates are paid by the hour, while graduate students may be paid by the hour or by salary. Your school may pay you weekly or bi-weekly, but is required to pay student workers at least once a month. Your school is also required to pay you directly, unless you specifically request that the money is put directly towards institutional charges such as tuition, fees, and room and board. Many schools now offer the option of having your paycheck directly deposited into your personal checking/savings account, which is more convenient for many busy students.
Work-study jobs are most often located on or near campus, making them convenient for students with busy class schedules. Jobs on campus might include working at the dining hall, mailroom, library, computer lab or a variety of other positions. Schools also hire students for grounds crews, department assistants and research assistants. The work-study program encourages work related to a student’s field of study. For example, an art student may be hired to oversee the ceramics lab, work in the student-gallery or assist an instructor within the art department.
Not all work-study jobs are located on campus. The work-study program also encourages community service work. Students working off campus will typically be employed by a public agency or private nonprofit organization. Some schools may also have agreements for work-study jobs with private for-profit employers, which must be relevant to a student’s field of study.
The number of hours a student works per week is limited according to the total amount of Federal Work-Study that they are awarded. Employers will generally space out your hours over the semester according to your total award. Between 10 and 20 hours per week is common, but varies widely. It is not necessary that you earn the entire amount that you were rewarded, although it is encouraged. Employers will take into consideration your class schedule and academic progress when assigning work hours.
Work-study jobs are typically first-come, first-serve and the desirable jobs are snatched up quickly. Schools advertise work-study jobs in different ways. They may be posted on the school website or advertised around campus on bulletin boards and posters. The university that I attended advertised by having a job fair the first week of each year, where students could come to learn about and apply for different work-study jobs. Each department or organization that was looking for student workers set up tables where students could learn about and apply for jobs. In my case, the application and interview process were very informal, and I was given a job on the spot.
In my experience, work-study programs are a great way for students to fund a portion of their education. I worked as both an office assistant and research assistant for most of my college career, until I was no longer eligible for work-study. I think I only received minimum wage as an office assistant, but was paid around $9 an hour as a research assistant, which isn’t too bad for a college student. I worked around 15-20 hours a week, depending on my class schedule. Even though I may have made more money at a serving job, there were a lot of advantages to my work-study jobs.
Because my jobs were located on campus, I could easily walk to and from work, saving me money on gas and parking. Also, because I was employed by the school, the hours were much more flexible than a regular job would have been. I could work a few hours here and there throughout the day in-between classes, leaving me with my nights and weekends free for studying or socializing. If I had an important exam to study for or a big project to finish, it generally wasn’t difficult to take an afternoon off because my employers were more interested in my academic success.
Both jobs were not very physically or mentally demanding. Working as an office assistant, there sometimes was nothing for me to do, which could get boring. However, doing homework was acceptable as long as I had finished my work, so it gave me valuable time to work on my studies. Not only did I get paid to study, but also I could get my homework done and have the entire night free to do something fun! The research assistant job kept me too busy to do any homework, but was more rewarding work and introduced me to important contacts that helped me throughout my college career.
I would highly suggest that any student apply for Federal Financial Aid, even if they don’t think that they will qualify. It’s worth a shot. On your application, make sure that you check that you are interested in receiving work study.