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Articles / Applying to College / What is Federal Work-Study?

What is Federal Work-Study?

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | Dec. 19, 2011

Question: What is Federal Work-Study?

I think that you'll find a lot of information about Federal Work-Study here (maybe TOO much?):


The shorter version is this: Students who apply for financial aid from the college they plan to attend are usually offered “Federal Work Study" (FWS) as part of their financial aid “package." (The rest of this package may include grant … which is money you won't have to repay …. and possibly loan, which you do.) What “work-study" really means is a job. The reason it's called “Federal" Work-Study is that the U.S. government pays a portion of the salary and the college itself pays the rest. This is also why only U.S. citizens and Permanent Residents are eligible for Federal Work Study.

The majority of FWS jobs are right on campus. Some may even be in your own dormitory. Typically, freshmen hold minimum-wage jobs such as serving food or washing dishes in the dining hall or checking I.D.'s at the front desk of a dorm or at the gym. When you begin college, your initial job options may be limited. But after your first couple semesters, as you get more seniority, they will probably expand. You may be able to assist a professor, administrator, or other staff member. You may even work off-campus in a non-profit agency, tutoring program, etc. The more “responsible" your job, the higher the pay is likely to be.

FWS students are not allowed to work more than 20 hours/week, and colleges often put greater restrictions on allotted hours, especially for freshmen who may only work for 6 to 8 hours.

Although it can sometimes feel difficult to hold down a job while you are also trying to attend classes, complete assignments, participate in extracurricular activities, and maintain a social life, most work-study students are glad to be part of this program. The work is usually convenient and rarely demanding, and it is often a good way to meet other students. There are SO many work-study students on campus that you won't feel like Cinderella sweeping up in the cafeteria while your friends are off having fun, and some of the more responsible work-study jobs can be good résumé items when you're seeking a “real" job down the road.

(posted 12/18/2011)

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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