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What Is Work-Study, and Is it Better Than a Part-Time Job?

Along with scholarships and grants, your financial aid package from your chosen college may also include an offer of work study. What is a work study program, exactly? And if you go for it, what are the benefits, and potential drawbacks?

What is work-study?

Students who demonstrate a financial need on their college financial aid applications (aka the FAFSA) can qualify for a program administered by the federal government, called Federal Work-Study.  This program awards schools a finite amount of money to disperse to qualifying students. Once those funds are depleted, no other students may apply for that semester.

The program is intended to help students earn money to pay for college expenses while working at jobs that either benefit the community or relate to the student’s intended course of study. Generally, students are paid hourly and receive a paycheck, although it’s possible for the funds to be applied to the student’s tuition and fees.

How is work-study different from a part-time job?

You’re likely familiar with how regular part-time jobs work. They’re not affiliated with your school, you find them on your own, and you can work as little or as much as you want.

Work-study jobs, however, are most commonly on campus, though in some cases students can work off campus at businesses or organizations that have work-study agreements with the school. Whether the student is working on or off campus, the hours can’t exceed the amount that was initially awarded. This restriction is beneficial because students can lose financial aid dollars if they earn too much from working.

Examples of work-study jobs:

  • Tutoring
  • Administrative duties
  • Student union/student recreation center staff
  • Marketing support staff
  • Event promotions support staff
  • Campus tour guide
  • Daycare assistant
  • Lab assistant (e.g., science, computers)

What are the benefits of choosing work-study?

Direction. Work-study can be a great choice, especially for incoming freshman and rising sophomores who might still be unsure of their majors. With work-study, they can find a job that focuses on giving to the community while they decide which program of study to pursue. On-campus work-study can help students acclimate to their school environment — like different departments, staff, processes — which in turn can help them narrow down a field of study.

Flexibility. Work-study is friendly to college students’ schedules. For example, when holiday breaks come around, students don’t have to worry about asking for time off from work. There’s also flexibility when it comes to tests, finals, and special events related to college.

Financial Support. One major benefit to work-study is that it’s a form of financial aid. It ultimately can lower the amount of money you take out in student loans, meaning there’s less you have to pay back, and less interest accrued.

What are the drawbacks of work-study?

Work-study offers a stable yet flexible option to earn money through college. However, there are a few points to consider before going that route. First, getting a work-study award doesn’t guarantee a job. Students are still required to go through the application and interview process to secure a job.

Work-study has restrictions on how much students can work, thus how much they can earn. While those restrictions can be beneficial for underclassmen, upperclassmen might need to earn beyond what work-study allows, in the form of an off-campus job with the business or organization of their choice.

How do I choose between a work study job and a part-time job?

Ultimately, whether or not you should choose a work-study job or a part-time job comes down to:

  • How much you want to work
  • How much money you need to earn

If you want to keep your hours to a minimum and like the idea of taking out less in student loans, a work-study job might be the right choice. If you’re looking for more work hours and more money in your pocket, a part-time job is possibly the way to go. When in doubt, if work-study is an option, consult with your school’s financial aid office to determine if the program is a good fit.

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Author: Danielle Costello

Danielle Costello is a freelance writer and editor with 14 years in marketing and publishing. In addition to working with a variety of clients as a copywriter, she's been published in Memphis Magazine, 100 Days in Appalachia, and the Memphis Flyer, among other outlets. Danielle is also a staff volunteer for Animal Friends of North Central West Virginia, health and fitness enthusiast, and foe of weak coffee. She writes at Twitter: @typedreamswv. Email: