How a Work-Study Program Can Help Offset College Costs

Whether in undergraduate or graduate school, you may want to consider applying for a work-study program to help cover the costs of obtaining a degree.Work-study programs are offered on a first-come, first-serve basis to students with qualified financial need as a means to make income. Whether in undergraduate or graduate school, you may want to consider applying for a work-study program to help cover the costs of obtaining a degree.

The basics of a work-study program

According to a June 2015 article in U.S. News written by personal finance editor Susannah Snider, federal work-study programs allow students to make a subsidized, or government-supported, income by working at a qualifying part-time job, usually on a campus. To qualify, a student must demonstrate financial need and fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Based on need and on a first-come, first-serve basis, the federal government allots an income that can be earned through a work-study program, adds contributor Jon Fortenbury in a March 2014 article in USA Today College. Your total income allowed for work-study is predetermined based on your financial need, and you cannot exceed this awarded amount. Lastly, the work-study program is typically based on a 20-hour maximum workweek.

In essence, Snider says, the government uses work-study programs as a tool to provide students with a means of receiving money to cover the costs to attend college. Students earn at least the federal minimum wage, if not more, and because it is considered as income and not a loan, it does not need to be repaid.

The benefits of work-study income

Just as with any other job, students can use this income to pay for their education and living expenses. Students can elect to receive the entire paycheck and use the money how they wish or they can request an automatic payment made to tuition or fees with each pay period, Snider adds.

While a work-study income alone is not enough to cover all your costs, it still helps cover some expenses, Fortenbury says. Additionally, because the programs are typically on campus, you will save money that would otherwise be used for transportation to and from an outside part-time job.

Finally, because the federal government subsidizes work-study paychecks, it doesn’t count the program as true earned income—so it won’t affect how much financial aid you are awarded. Conversely, reporting an income made with an outside job could affect the financial aid you can receive.

“In addition to earning extra cash for college, work-study participants may pick up professional skills and make on-campus contacts. Students may get a chance to work in a field related to their major and with a boss who understands that studying is a priority. A good boss can help schedule work around classes and serve as a future job reference,” Snider advises.

As long as you can balance a busy class schedule with part-time work, a work-study program is advantageous to helping you offset your costs and keeping your debt low.


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