Paying for College through Federal Work Study Programs

Using the federal work-study program to help pay for college.

In my experience as a college student you are far better off seeking employment on your campus as a ‘budget’ student worker or finding a flexible part time job that pays more. The problem with federal work-study programs is that most of them allot a maximum amount you can ‘earn’ per semester. You do not automatically get a check for that amount for working, you need to work the number of hours needed to get the money and most work-study jobs pay about 5-6 dollars an hour.

Combined with this slow release of the money (by the time you earn it you’ll be done the semester) there are also taxes taken out. Also contrary to public belief ‘work-study’ really means nothing in regards to your studies; you’ll do jobs from landscaping to serving food to answering phones for your school. If you happen to earn over the allotted maximum the school (your employer) will decide if they are willing to pay you out of their budget for more hours or cancel your shifts until a new semester begins.

The advantage of federal work study really is for the educational institutions; they can get cheap labor to do mundane tasks and for them they pay zero dollars out of their own budget for your work. I worked at my first college’s University Art Museum as a ‘budget worker’ meaning they had to pay me from their own budget. As the years went on they informed me that I was a good worker and they’d be keeping me but they would stop hiring budget workers only hiring work study workers because they could get more work out of them with no financial obligation on the part of the museum’s budget.

This situation of ‘free labor’ for the school’s pushes out those who may need a part-time job and can’t get work-study and therefore can’t get the jobs while the work-study students often ‘run out’ of funds to get paid from. On top of this disadvantage many schools consider ‘work-study’ a part of their financial aid package when in reality it is not. Again if a school includes this maximum in their financial aid package it is considered part of your financial aid whether or not you take a ‘work-study’ job. If you take a non-campus or budget job that money does not go to you but still is considered financial aid which means the school gets out of adding money that could have went to your actual usable financial aid.

All this said it is nearly impossible to pay for college through federal work-study and any amounts you do manage to earn come in small bi-weekly amounts which hardly make a dent in your college expenses.