Federal Work-Study Program


Getting a college education is more important than it was 10 years ago, but with tuition skyrocketing, paying for college is becoming more of a struggle,

Many families find it increasingly difficult to afford college education, but the burden can be even heavier for single mothers.

In addition to paying for the often exorbitant cost of childcare, single mothers know first hand the additional struggle to pay for college.

And it’s not just the high cost of tuition. For working parents, balancing jobs, children and school can be really stressful.

That’s why student aid is available to those who need help paying for college — these are money that can either be free, borrowed or earned.


What is Federal Work-Study?


The Federal Work-Study (FWS) Program is a type of student aid1 that gives low-income single-parent students2 a way to earn money by doing part-time work on or off campus, often in their chosen field of study.

The aim is to provide them with valuable work experience, and more importantly, help them graduate from college with as little debt as possible.3

Eligible students may work up to twenty (20) hours a week and receive a monthly paycheck (based on an hourly wage) which they can use for educational expenses.

Most FWS jobs are campus-based, although some are off-campus. For example, reading tutors, literacy tutors, math tutors, library work, student center work and administrative functions are some of the typical on-campus jobs offered by the program.

Those working off campus usually work for a private nonprofit organization or a public agency, performing work closely relevant to their course of study.


How Do I Apply for Work-Study?


You apply for work-study just like you do all other forms of financial aid: by filling out and submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The amount of work-study you are eligible for is usually determined by the information you fill out in your FAFSA.

On the FAFSA (item 31), you are asked if you are interested in being considered for work-study. Make sure you opt for a “Yes” to indicate that you are interested in the FWS program.

Keep in mind that funding for FWS program is limited and awarded on a ‘first come, first served’ basis. Hence, it’s advised to apply early way before the datelines.


How Much Can I Earn?


If you qualify for FWS aid, your salary may start at the prevailing federal minimum wage — about $7.25 per hour, however, your wages may not exceed your total FWS award.4

The maximum FWS award is based on your financial need, the number of hours you’re able to work, and the amount of FWS funding available at the school you plan to attend.

A typical award for undergraduate students is $3,000 per year ($4,500 for graduate students), and unlike the federal Pell Grant, it isn’t an entitlement — you will have to work to earn it!

Are work-study earnings taxable? Yes, paychecks from FWS are considered earned income and therefore are subject to federal, state and local tax withholding.


Non-Federal Work-Study


If you do not qualify for Federal Work-Study, you should inquire about non-federal student employment opportunities at your school. Non-Federal Work-Study (non-FWS) is not based on your financial need which means any student is eligible depending on any available opportunities on campus.

Non-FWS programs are very similar to Federal Work-Study. The only difference is the funding source. Non-federal work study programs are typically financed by the school.

And unlike FWS, the wages you earn from non-FWS program will be used to determine your financial need when filing the FAFSA.


Although FWS money will not pay for your entire cost of education, it goes a long way in helping you pay a portion of it. However, this option will work only if you have minimal living expenses and have family support to meet your child care needs.

For more specific information regarding both Federal Work-Study and non-Federal Work-Study, you should contact your school’s Financial Aid Office.


  1. According to the U.S. Department of Education, about 3,400 postsecondary institutions participate and award FWS as part of an eligible student’s financial aid package. []
  2. Students from low- and moderate-income families are the primary beneficiaries of FWS. In 2011-2012, nearly three quarters (70%) of independent FWS recipients came from families with income below $12,000 []
  3. According to Project on Student Debt, ⅔ of 2012 college seniors graduated with an average of $29,400 in debt. []
  4. Any unearned money (if any) cannot be rolled over into next year’s award too. []