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A Closer Look at the Federal Work Study Program

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Written by College Coach Guest Authoron August 11th, 2022

Bright Horizons College Coach occasionally features blog posts written by guest authors. You’ll find more information about each guest author in the About the Author section on the blog post.

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Guest post by Jaron Tucker, Manager of Federal Work-Study at Harvard University. He was a first-generation, low-income college student of color, and has since worked in higher education and financial aid for nearly 13 years. The Federal Work Study Program (FWSP) is an amazing way for students to gain work experience while earning additional funds to help pay for school and living expenses. Employers get a break on wage costs since the program is subsidized by the federal government. It’s a win-win situation. How do I access FWSP funds? First, students must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and demonstrate eligibility for need-based financial aid. If a student qualifies for FWSP, the college will include work-study funding as part of the student’s financial aid award. A key difference between work-study money and other types of aid a student may receive is that work-study is allocated, rather than awarded. A student has to find a job and work the hours in order to get the funding. Since federal work-study is a need-based fund and schools have a set amount they can award, it is sometimes allocated on a first-come, first-served basis. Completing the FAFSA early is the best way to ensure work-study funding. Some schools, especially those that don’t meet full financial need, may see a high demand for work-study, exhausting their available funds early in the process. These schools may then use a waitlist for eligible students they weren’t able to fund initially. Students are not penalized for their work-study earnings in determining financial aid eligibility in the following year. These earnings are reported separately from other earned income on the FAFSA and not counted in the calculation. Where can I find a work-study Job? The first place to look for a work-study job is your college campus. Work-study students may receive hiring preference, as 75% of the wages come from federal funds awarded to the institution, while the hiring department will pay the remaining 25% of wages. The process is seamless from the student’s standpoint and they will receive a paycheck on the same schedule as other university employees. Many students do not realize that they may also use work-study at off-campus, non-profit agencies. Want to work at a shelter and help the homeless? Want to be a research assistant at a hospital? Reach out to the university financial aid office if you are curious about community service positions that may be available near campus. Work-study may even by a way to turn an unpaid internship into a paid work experience as you explore a particular career path. While students may be able to work at for-profit organizations, these jobs must be academically relevant to the program of study. For example, a student studying business administration could work in a bank handling customer transactions. Be prepared to write a proposal outlining how that job will be beneficial for your degree. What are the benefits of work-study? Working while you are in college may enhance your ability to secure employment after graduation. Positions for student workers often require minimal qualifications to apply. My work experience prior to working as a student in the registrar’s office during college was babysitting. I have found that work-study employers are focused on your capabilities and willingness to learn, not your past employment. Many people believe it is difficult to work and attend college at the same time. The good news is that work schedules vary greatly. Work-study employers build student schedules around classes and other academic responsibilities. Employers understand that success in the classroom comes first for their student workers. They are students first, employees second. So, if you received work-study funds in your financial aid package, I suggest you utilize the university employment office, financial aid office, or even the human resource office, as they will be the main hubs where you can locate job openings on and off campus. Taking advantage of the FWSP is one of the best things you can do for yourself during college: it’s a way to offset indirect costs and significantly impact your future employment success.

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