What do families in the middle of the income road do when it comes to paying for college? It seems like wealthy families can pay out of pocket to get their children through college, while certain programs are available only for those under a specific income level. But where does that leave households with tight budgets when a child has worked hard in high school and wants to go to a good college? Does it have to be out of reach, or do you have to consign yourselves to a lifetime of student loan debt?
That is where the Federal Work-Study Program comes into play. It allows students to work part-time on or off campus in order to earn additional money to help pay for college. Students are encouraged to perform community service work or work that relates to their field of study. The first step in qualifying for this program is to file the FAFSA as soon as possible after it becomes available October 1 to get the best shot at being eligible to receive some of these limited funds. Here are some important details you need to know about the Federal Work-Study Program:
• It is made available by the Federal government to full- and part-time undergraduate, graduate, and professional students with financial need.
• The school must be a participant in the program. The federal government subsidizes approximately 75% of the costs, while the institution covers the rest. Consequently some institutions have more positions available than others, so check with the financial aid office at your college to see if they take advantage of this program and learn how many students are in it.
• Some schools might have agreements with private for-profit employers to offer work-study jobs to their students, but these jobs must also be relevant to the student’s course of study whenever possible. Not all schools assign you to a position, so you might have to find a job yourself.
• Work-study funds are allocated early, so you must complete the FAFSA as quickly as possible to increase your possibility of receiving this job assistance. Make sure to indicate that you are interested in participating in this program.
• The amount you are paid is often based on the prevailing federal minimum wage, which is currently set at $7.25 per hour, but you may be able to earn more, depending on your specific skills and the type of work you perform. A graduate or professional student, for example, might be able to earn more than an undergraduate student. The total award is based on level of financial need, the school’s available funding, and when you apply so, again, apply early.
• You will be paid at least once a month, and possibly more depending on the policy at your school. You may have to pay federal taxes, but FICA contributions are not taken out of work-study monies. This income also does not affect future financial aid eligibility.
• You can be paid directly or you may ask the school to have the payments sent directly to your bank account or to use them to help pay for your education-related institutional expenses, although most schools require that tuition be paid before the semester begins.
• You are only able to earn money up to the limit of your work-study award. The employer or school will take your class schedule and academic progress into account when calculating your total available hours and setting up your work schedule. Work is assigned during normal semester timeframes, so you will be able to spend the holidays with your family and friends. Qualifying one year does not automatically mean you will be eligible again the next year.
• Funds received for performing work under this program do not have to be repaid.
The Federal Work-Study program will not cover your entire cost of living while attending college, but it does provide a hand up to help pay some expenses while you obtain vital job skills. In some cases you might be able to turn your part-time job into a full-time job after graduation if you impress your employer enough!