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What is Work-Study in the USA and Who Can Qualify For It?

Paying for university is an important consideration for most students. A key part for many is applying and qualifying for student financial aid. As a component of financial aid benefits in the United States, work-study can be a beneficial program to help students make ends meet while in school.

Sep 6, 2023
  • Education
What is Work-Study in the USA and Who Can Qualify For It?

What is work study?

First things first, let's break down what work-study actually is. One of the key authorities on the topic is the Federal Student Aid website. According to, “Federal Work-Study provides part-time jobs for undergraduate and graduate students with financial need, allowing them to earn money to help pay education expenses. The program encourages community service work and work related to the student’s course of study.” Work-study is either federally funded, or state-funded, and can help students pay for college by allowing them to work an on-campus job. The positions are part-time, and students can earn a set amount of money. Once the money has been exhausted, the position is usually terminated, unless the department employing the student can continue funding their role.

Who qualifies for it?

Students awarded work-study as part of their financial aid package are generally students who have proven they have need of further assistance to pay for their education. Work-study is one of three types of needs-based financial aid offered. To qualify, “You must submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, also known as the FAFSA, to determine your family’s eligibility for need-based financial aid. The information you include on the FAFSA is used to calculate your expected family contribution, which will factor into your award.” Work-study, like grants and scholarships, are funds that don’t have to be repaid after graduation. These types of awards are determined by the student’s need, which is based “On family’s household size, parents’ income and assets for dependent students, student’s assets for independent students, and number of dependent family members enrolled in post-secondary programs,” according to College Raptor.

Can international students qualify for work-study?

Unfortunately, international students don’t frequently qualify for work-study, as the majority of these positions are federally funded, and therefore only available to students who have completed the FAFSA. However, if you wish to apply for financial aid, and therefore work-study, working with the school’s international affairs office or admissions office can help navigate the process to find out if you qualify.

How do you apply for it?

In order to apply for work-study, students absolutely must complete the FAFSA, as this is the only way to qualify. Once this has been completed and a student has been accepted to a university, they will generally receive a letter from the school’s financial aid office. This letter will outline the assistance a student has been awarded. Once the student has determined which or all of the awards they would like to accept, letting the financial aid office know is the next step.

After letting your school know, try contacting the student employment or financial aid offices. “They’ll probably have job banks or postings for you to look through. Typical work-study jobs range from working in the school’s library, to assisting professors with research or projects, to working in the dining hall,” according to There may also be off-campus opportunities as well.

What does a work-study entail?

A work-study position generally occurs on campus. The jobs are intended to offer flexible hours that work with a student’s busy schedule and work-study students can perform a variety of roles. Some roles include research, library assisting, and other administrative roles. Off-campus roles may include opportunities with a nonprofit, civic, or government organization. All positions are paid the federal minimum wage at least, while some may pay more based upon the university’s ability to contribute.

What if you can’t find a work-study job?

Work-study jobs are often in high demand, so apply for financial aid as soon as possible. Then, as soon as an awards letter is received and accepted, begin the search process. Being awarded work-study doesn’t guarantee a position. Some schools match students with positions, but others require recipients to find and apply for positions. Even if you can’t find a work-study job on campus, your university may have other options available for employment. You may also need to expand your search for off-campus employment.

What if you don’t qualify for work-study?

Not receiving the type of financial aid you hoped for can be disappointing. However, students shouldn’t feel entirely discouraged. Work-study qualifications can change yearly, so continue to apply for it again the following year, especially if your family or personal circumstances change. Mefa reminds students not to get discouraged if they don’t qualify for or can’t find a work-study job at their university. “Lots of places located near colleges are used to hiring students for part-time work and are happy to work around school schedules,” it explains, and there may be opportunities as well in your major or area of study, which makes for great work experience. At the end of the day, work experience is what’s going to be the most important, as well as finding a job that helps earn you money. If it’s not work-study, that’s ok. There are lots of great job opportunities out there for college students; it just may require a bit of searching.

If finding a position on campus is important, make sure to reach out to your school’s student employment office to inquire about what positions are available on campus. Some schools also collaborate with local businesses to share job postings or may be able to help you find directories of positions. When you’re ready to apply, a visit to your school’s career services office can help you prepare your resume, and get you ready for the interview process.

Like most financial aid services in the United States, work-study can have its benefits and drawbacks. However, for those looking for a flexible job that can give them a bit of money to offset college expenses, it can be a viable option. By applying for financial aid early, searching for a position, and putting in a little legwork, students can find positions that will benefit them now, as well as help them gain skills for the future.

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Chelsea Castonguay


Chelsea is a Student Affairs expatriate, who now works as a freelance writer and editor. She homesteads in a small town in rural Maine, USA. She enjoys hiking, fishing, cooking, reading, all things Laura Ingalls Wilder, spending time with her family, and chasing her black lab puppy, Cash.

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