Guide to Federal Work Study

Discover the world of Work Study!

If you're a high school student exploring options to help pay for your college education, Work Study programs, available through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), could be an excellent opportunity for you. Work Study provides part-time employment to eligible undergraduate and graduate students, allowing them to earn money while enrolled to support their education expenses.  

Below, we'll walk you through everything you need to know about Work Study programs, their benefits, how they work, and how you can take advantage of this valuable opportunity.  

Ready to get started? Let's dive in and discover the world of Work Study! 

What Is Work Study?

Work Study is a financial aid program offered by the federal government that allows eligible undergraduate and graduate students to work part-time while attending college or technical school. Work Study positions can be on or off campus and are typically related to the student's field of study or serve the community. Work Study is a great opportunity for many students to gain relevant work experience, develop new skills, and contribute to their educational journey. 

Work Study is different from a traditional job because it’s a type of financial aid and the Work Study program considers the student's financial need. Importantly, to remain eligible for Work Study students must maintain satisfactory academic progress. Essentially, this means keeping your grades up. Check with your institution’s financial aid office to ensure you understand their satisfactory academic progress requirements.  

How Does the Work Study Program Work?

The Federal Work Study program is designed to assist students in paying for their college-related expenses while gaining valuable work experience. These are the key points outlining who the program is for and how it operates: 


Undergraduate and graduate students with financial need can qualify for Work Study programs. To determine eligibility, students must complete the FAFSA and indicate their interest in Work Study. States and colleges establish specific priority deadlines for submitting the FAFSA form to be considered for their aid programs. Additionally, there is an annual federal deadline that applies to all students. The FAFSA website, will help you determine your important deadlines.  

Award Determination

The amount of Work Study awarded to students depends on their financial need and the availability of funds at their institution. The school's financial aid office determines the award amount based on the student's FAFSA information. 

Finding Work Study Jobs

Once awarded Work Study funds, students must actively search for Work Study positions. Some schools may assist in job placement, while others require students to independently seek out job opportunities. Work Study jobs can be on or off campus, with an emphasis on civic education, community service, and work related to the student's course of study. 

Work Hours and Wages

Work Study positions are typically part-time, allowing students to balance their work and academic commitments. Students generally work up to 20 hours per week, although the exact hours can vary based on the student's availability and the employer's requirements. The wages are at least the current federal minimum wage, and in some cases, may be higher depending on the job and skill requirements.

Earnings and Payment

As students work, they earn wages that are paid to them directly. Work Study earnings are not automatically applied to tuition but are provided as regular paychecks, usually on a biweekly or monthly basis. Students can choose to receive their payments directly or allocate them toward education-related expenses such as fees, housing, or meals. 

Benefits of Work Study

By participating in a Work Study program, you can earn money, reduce your reliance on student loans, enjoy flexible schedules, and gain invaluable experience along the way. Here are some key advantages of Work Study:

Earnings from Work Study Don't Count Toward FAFSA  

This significant benefit means that the income you earn through Work Study is not factored into the calculation of your financial need, potentially allowing you to qualify for more financial aid. 

Can Help Reduce the Amount of Student Loans Needed   

By earning income through Work Study, you can offset some of your educational costs, potentially decreasing your reliance on loans and minimizing your future debt burden. 

More Flexible Schedules from Employers

Work Study employers typically understand academic commitments and accommodate class schedules, helping you strike a better work-school balance. 

Gain Experience While in School  

Work Study jobs often relate to your field of study or offer community service opportunities. These options allow you to develop applicable skills, network with professionals working in the field, build your resume, contribute to your community, and explore your career interests

Who is Eligible for Work Study?

Completing the FAFSA form is just the first step— The Federal Work Study Program provides opportunities for part-time employment for undergraduate, graduate, and professional students who are enrolled in school full or part-time and meet specific eligibility criteria:  

Financial Need

Work Study programs target students with demonstrated financial need. Eligibility is determined by completing the FAFSA form, which assesses the student's financial situation and calculates their Expected Family Contribution (EFC). 

FAFSA Requirements

To determine Work Study eligibility, students must complete the FAFSA form and MUST indicate their interest in Work Study. The information provided in the FAFSA helps schools determine a student’s eligibility for Work Study funds.  

School Participation

Eligibility for Work Study opportunities depend on the participation of the student's institution. Students should check with their school's financial aid office to confirm if their school offers Work Study programs. 

Award Determination

The amount of Work Study awarded to eligible students depends on A) their financial need and B) the availability of funds at their institution. Each school's financial aid office determines the specific award amount based on the student's FAFSA information and the availability of funds at the institution. 

How to Apply for Federal Work Study

Applying for Federal Work Study is a straightforward process — as we’ve mentioned, it all starts with filling out the FAFSA as completely and accurately as possible. Here's an overview of how to apply: 

Indicate Interest on FAFSA

When completing the FAFSA form, students should indicate their interest in being considered for Work Study. This involves answering relevant questions and selecting the option that expresses their desire to participate in Work Study programs. You are not required to accept Work Study if it is offered to you. 

Submit FAFSA Early

It is highly recommended to submit the FAFSA form as early as possible. Work Study funds are often awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, so early submission increases the chances of being considered for Work Study opportunities. 

Check School's Requirements

Some schools may have specific requirements or additional forms that need to be submitted to apply for Work Study. Students should visit their school's financial aid office and check their school's website for any supplementary information or application procedures related to Work Study. 

The information above should put you on solid footing to explore your options and determine if Work Study is a good fit to help you meet your education and career goals. By indicating your interest on your FAFSA and finding the right Work Study opportunity you’ll be able to balance your workload and studies to keep your education affordable and on track for success.  

Learn More About Paying for College

ACT provides comprehensive college planning resources to help you make informed decisions about your educational and professional path. Explore our paying for college resources to gain valuable insights on financial aid, scholarship tips and much more!