Federal work-study (FWS) is a form of federal financial aid that funds part-time jobs for enrolled students. This allows students to earn money for their educational and living expenses, while also helping them gain real-world experience related to their course of study.
If you are eligible for FWS, this option will be included in your financial aid award letter. However, unlike a federal loan or grant, the amount you receive for FWS will not be deducted directly from your balance at your school. Instead, you will need to find a job on campus or an eligible off-campus job and earn that money by working.
Who Is Eligible For FWS?
Undergraduate and graduate students with financial need may be awarded FWS.
How Do You Get FWS?
Like other forms of federal financial aid, you will need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to see if you're eligibile for FWS. If you go to a school that participates in the FWS program, its financial aid office will determine if you have financial need and award FWS funds if they are available.
How Much FWS Can I Get?
The amount you can receive will depend on your school's FWS funding—which can be limited. Most schools award FWS funds to students with financial need on a first-come, first-served basis. So, if you are interested in this option, be sure to apply for financial aid as early as possible.
What Kinds Of Jobs Are Available?
FWS jobs can be on or off campus. Your school offers on-campus jobs, and the options include more than just the dining hall (not that there's anything wrong with food service!). It's possible to work in about any department at your college—as long as they have a position open. Search early in the semester (jobs may even be posted during the summer before the fall term starts) to help ensure you get a posting you want.
Off-campus jobs are typically restricted to private nonprofit organizations or public agencies where the work is considered to be good for the public. These organizations have to set up employment agreements with your school, so you can't just get a job with a nonprofit and expect to get FWS money to fund the position.
It is also possible for schools to have agreements with private for-profit organizations, but the jobs offered must be as relevant to your course of study as possible.
How Much Will I Get Paid?
Your pay rate will depend on the job, but you have to make at least the federal minimum wage. Undergraduate students are paid by the hour. Graduate students may be paid by the hour or be salaried, depending on the type of work they're doing.
Also, while your FWS award will list a specific dollar amount, you are not guaranteed to earn that much money. It is up to you to apply for an FWS position, get the job, and work the hours. If you don't work, you don't get your FWS money. If you use up your available FWS funding, check with your school's financial aid department to see if more money is available. If it isn't, all hope (and your job) isn't lost—your employer can opt to pay you with their own budget/funding.
What Can I Use FWS Earnings For?
The money you earn through your FWS job is like money you'd earn through any job—it's yours to spend on your education-related expenses, including living expenses, how you want to. Unlike other federal aid, FWS money doesn't go directly to your student account to pay down your balance (unless your school has given you that option and you said yes). So while you can still use it to cover your school costs, you don't have to.
Can I Work Part Time Instead?
Absolutely! Potentially, you could have a work-study position and a part-time job, provided you can balance both with your schoolwork. Not all on-campus jobs require work-study funding, though some offices may prefer FWS candidates because they're paid via federal student aid and not their department's budget.
Off-campus jobs are open to anyone, and they won't limit the amount you can earn like FWS does. However, those jobs may make you work more and/or later hours than you want (FWS hours are often limited), and the employers may not be as flexible regarding your class schedule and other needs as a student. Part-time work can also affect how much financial aid you qualify for in the future, which FWS won't.