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As families complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form, one question commonly overlooked asks if students are interested in being considered for work study. But, what is work study and how does it work?

Work study is a way for students to earn money to pay for college through part-time employment, primarily located on-campus although not exclusively. The program is reserved for students with financial need and gives them the opportunity to gain work experience while pursuing their degree. To be eligible, students must meet and maintain eligibility annually for financial aid, submit the FAFSA, demonstrate financial need, and complete a verification process.

Although families can select this option on the FAFSA form, there are no guarantees that eligible students will be awarded work study due to the program’s limited funding. Eligibility must be determined each year. Qualified students who are not offered work study can ask to be waitlisted, initiating this request with their college’s financial aid office should funds become available. Students must complete the FAFSA annually and indicate they want to be considered for work study each year. A college’s financial aid office can be helpful in answering questions about these processes.

Students awarded work study must search for part-time employment opportunities that are earmarked as work study positions, which should occur as soon as a student becomes eligible since the number of work study positions can be limited. A college’s career services office often lists work study employment options along with all other on-campus employment opportunities, although each campus may organize and advertise these opportunities differently. Prior work experience is not typically required, although expectations may vary.

As a student earns their wages for their hourly paid job, work study funds are paid directly to the student and not directly applied to their tuition, fees, and other educational expenses. Work study employment can help a student supplement their income while also receiving other forms of financial aid. Part-time on-campus employment typically does not exceed 20 hours per week, allowing students to balance their work commitments with their academic priorities.

Work study positions are also designed to provide students with meaningful employment opportunities while they earn their degree. Such employment opportunities might include becoming a lab assistant, website developer, program planner, peer mentor, academic tutor, teaching assistant, front desk assistant, campus tour guide, and much more.

Some campus employers may prefer to hire work-study students since funds come partially from the federal government and only a fraction of a student’s wage is covered by the employer. Students can gain vital on-the-job skills to support their success in their careers post-graduation. On-campus employment may also help students with work study develop supportive social networks, gain mentorship from supervisors and peers, and get more quickly connected to campus resources.

As students and their families evaluate options to pay for college, the federal work study program may provide eligible students with fulfilling on-campus employment and income to help offset college costs. So, when you see the work study question on the FAFSA, you can make a more informed decision as you indicate your response.


Dr. Marla Franco serves as the Assistant Vice Provost for Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) Initiatives at the University of Arizona and is a member of the president’s senior leadership team. Her higher education career spans 20 years and two states, California and Arizona. She has championed access and equity in higher education for all students and has authored publications to further understanding of HSIs. She is a first-generation college graduate and earned her PhD in Higher Education Leadership at Azusa Pacific University.