Federal Work-Study (FWS)

What is “Federal Work-Study”?

Federal Work-Study (FWS) is a form of financial aid, funded by the U.S. government, and administered by certain colleges, nonprofit organizations, and public agencies.  Students who qualify for this benefit work in part-time roles that assist their colleges or local communities. Occasionally FWS recipients may work for for-profit employers. The exact terms of Federal Work-Study – including hourly wages, weekly schedule, job selection, and other details – can vary from one FWS recipient to the next.  If you are interested in FWS, you should discuss program options with your college’s financial aid office.

How is Federal Work-Study different from any other part-time job?

FWS has many advantages over regular part-time jobs, including:

  • Availability – If your college participates in the FWS program, it will reserve select job openings on campus for FWS recipients.  Your school may also supply a list of opportunities with local employers, who are reserving appropriate positions for college students like you.  In both cases, you’re not competing with the general public to obtain employment.
  • Flexibility – FWS jobs are designated for college students, so employers are more likely to understand and accommodate busy schedules and student concerns.  Also, jobs are usually located on campus or within the surrounding community, which limits the headaches associated with commuting and transportation expenses.
  • Relevancy – When you’re a college student, you’re likely to settle for any part-time job you can secure, even if it involves flipping burgers.  FWS, by contrast, often allows recipients to work in departments and organizations that relate to their college majors and career goals.
  • Financial Incentives – Unlike regular wages, FWS earnings will not be counted towards your income total when you file next year’s FAFSA application.  So you may be eligible for more financial aid than you would be if you earned the same amount of money through mainstream employment.

On the downside, you can’t earn more FWS money than the amount you are awarded in your financial aid package. So you can’t volunteer for over-time or pick up extra hours, in an attempt to exceed your pre-determined benefit.

How do I apply for Federal Work-Study?

By completing the FAFSA application, you will automatically be considered for a Federal Work-Study award. If you qualify, the financial aid officer at your college usually determines the dollar amount of your FWS award.

Once I’m awarded FWS, how do I secure a job?

In many cases, you secure a FWS job in the same way you’d land a regular job. You can search your school’s job listings, and contact the appropriate officials with an email, cover letter, and/or resume. A financial aid officer can better advise you on your college’s ideal process.

What else do I need to know about Federal Work-Study?

Some schools may post “placement deadlines,” which limit the amount of time you have to find a Federal Work-Study position. If you miss the deadline, you can lose the FWS portion of your financial aid package. To avoid a missed deadline, try to start your job search and your application efforts as early as possible. You won’t want to be writing resumes and cover letters when the semester has started, and you have class assignments on your plate. 

If you don’t qualify for Federal Work-Study, check with your college or your state’s department of higher education. Many states offer their own work-study programs, specifically reserved for state residents.  State-based work-study programs are very similar to the federal version, but you can’t benefit from both programs during the same award year.


The preceding information was obtained from the U.S. Department of Education’s (USDE) online resource, “Student Aid on the Web,” available at: http://studentaid.ed.gov/PORTALSWebApp/students/english/campusaid.jsp

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