Workstudy Programs: How to Earn Money for College

Jar of coins increasingWorkstudy programs are something you may be interested in if you are trying to figure out how to earn money for college. Many students who want to attend college find it a challenge to pay for the rising costs of education. After all, you don’t only have to pay the tuition costs, but you have to buy textbooks and other materials (perhaps even a new computer) and on top of all that you have your living expenses. While you are attending college you have less time to work, so that makes it even harder to pay for it all. That’s why most students apply for financial aid.

Financial aid covers a wide variety of programs, including college grants, student loans and work study. Many people aren’t clear about what work study is, and how it differs from simply having a job while attending school. If you have a good paying job with flexible hours, such as waiting tables or bartending, you may not even need work study. However, in today’s economy, it isn’t always easy to get a job, especially one that you can fit into a schedule that includes taking classes. That’s where workstudy comes into the picture.

The first thing you need to do to be eligible for any kind of financial aid is to fill out the federal financial aid form or FAFSA. This is available from the Department of Education, or at your college’s financial aid office. Before you do this, you must be enrolled in a college or university. So if you haven’t yet applied to college, this is the first thing you must do.

In general, the best strategy to use with financial aid is to try first for aid that is simply money you get that you don’t have to repay or work for. This means grants and scholarships. However, most students are not able to fund their entire education by these means, so they must apply for loans and work study as well. The way work study operates is that, if you are deemed eligible for financial aid, you are given a job, either at the college you attend or at a participating institution, such as a non-profit organization or in some cases a private company.

You have some choice as to where you will work. Based on your needs, interests and program of study, you will be given interviews for available jobs. These jobs, unfortunately, don’t pay very well, usually between minimum wage and $9 per hour. However, they can help you gain valuable experience that you can put on your resume. And a work study job will not interfere with your class schedule, as it’s designed for students.

Work study is usually one aspect of your financial aid package, which may include college grants and student loans (and if you are fortunate, maybe a scholarship as well). A work study job can give you spending money to live on while going to school and, if it’s in your field of interest, may lead to more gainful employment later on.

Workstudy Programs Bring Money and Experience

Two men talking and writingRemember the song Carwash that croons “…work and work my fingers to the bone…”? If you do then you might be an older non-traditional student trying to get an education without going into too much debt. But debt is a real concern for younger and older students who must fund their education with a package of grants, loans and work study money.

What is work study? Work study programs are mostly federally subsidized jobs that are assigned to students. There are state work study programs also. These jobs are usually on campus but not always. The purpose is to give students an opportunity to earn income that can be used for educational expenses. It’s a win-win situation because the college gets inexpensive labor and the student gets work experience and money for expenses. You won’t be working in a carwash, but you could land a job in an office, laboratory, or with parking services for example.

Oh…and by the way…you won’t be working your fingers to the bone either because the college or university will limit the number of hours you are allowed to work! The school has a goal of stretching their work study funds as far as possible so that the largest number of students can access the program. Student work hours are also limited so students don’t overextend themselves trying to balance work and studies. Work study hours allowed typically range from 10 to 20 hours each week school is in session.

It’s Off to Work I Go…

If you hear a student say he or she is going to work then it just might be to a work study job. The financial aid office at the school you are attending has been awarded a set amount of federal (and maybe state) dollars that can be used to create and pay for work study jobs. How do you apply for work study?

The first step is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to see if you are eligible for financial aid. If you are eligible, then the financial aid office will assemble a financial aid package that is made up of federal and state grants, federal loans and/or a work study allotment. That allotment will vary from student to student based on their financial need and the amount of work study funds that are available.

In most cases, students are paid by the hour at a pre-set hourly rate. You will be told how many hours you are allowed to work for the semester.

How Do I Know If I’m Eligible?

Pencils with one standing outA natural question is: What are eligibility requirements for college financial aid and work study? Eligibility for work study money is determined based on the information you provide on the FAFSA. The financial aid office calculates your financial need first which is expressed as the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). If this number falls below a certain amount then you are considered to have demonstrated financial need.

The EFC is not the only eligibility consideration. Other factors considered are:

  • The number of enrolled credit hours
  • The total cost of attendance
  • Whether you are working towards a degree or certificate
  • Whether you are enrolled in an eligible program
  • Academic standing
  • Whether you are in default on a federal student loan
  • No drug convictions or reinstatement for financial aid eligibility is documented

A drug conviction can lead to federal aid ineligibility, but eligibility can be restored through the U.S. Department of Education.

Once you are determined to be eligible for financial aid, a funding package will be assembled that may include grants, loans and work study. You can accept or decline any of the funds. The total may or may not fully pay your expenses.

What Type of Job Can I Expect?

Undergraduates and graduate students are eligible for work study funds. Graduate students tend to be assigned jobs in their field of study such as in a lab, hospital or community service or as a faculty assistant who grades papers and tutors other students.

Undergraduates hold a variety of jobs. What kind of jobs will you find students in on a campus?

  • Tutor
  • Department receptionist
  • Office assistant
  • File clerk
  • Library assistant
  • Parking services
  • Athletic events service worker
  • Food service worker
  • Computer lab assistant
  • Student fitness center worker
  • Faculty assistant
  • Mail clerk

In other words, there are many different types of jobs for students both on and off campus.

Workstudy programs benefit the university and the student. You get to earn money on campus making the job convenient to access. Off campus jobs give students a chance to interface with the community and make important connections. In addition, you are able to use your work study position as a job reference after you graduate.