Skip to main content

What Is Work-study and Is It Worth It?

Federal work-study is a financial aid assistance program with funds administered by the U.S. Department of Education. This form of financial aid allows eligible students to work an approved part-time job on or off campus and earning a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly paycheck.

A student smiling while working at her work-study job

Whether you're planning to head to college right after high school or want to go back to school after some time away, paying for college can hold you back from attaining your degree. There are options for you, though, to get the financial aid you need to set you on the right track to achieve your goals. One financial aid option many don't know about or take advantage of is work-study.

So what exactly is work-study, and how does it work?

What Does Work-Study Mean?

Federal work-study is part of the government's Title IV financial aid assistance program with funds administered by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE). Work-study allows students to work an approved part-time job on or off campus and earn either a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly paycheck.

To be eligible for work-study, you must be a student enrolled in a degree program at a community college or 4-year university and have also applied for Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Not all students who complete a FAFSA will be eligible for work-study as it's based on a student's financial need.

Work-study is an option that's available for both online and campus students. If you're on campus, you can work in positions like an equipment and events staff member for the athletics department or at the library's front desk, or as a change agent for your school's Office of Diversity, just to name a few examples.

If you're an online student with work-study, you might take advantage of remote jobs for your university. Anyone with work-study can also work at an approved off-campus position.

For online students, a remote work-study job is a great opportunity to work and grow in a different work environment.

Abigayle Mahnken with the text Abigayle MahnkenWhile earning an English degree, Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) online student Abigayle Mahnken works remotely as a research assistant for the Learning Science Department and has had many growth opportunities in her role. She started by editing papers and sending out surveys, but now she is working on even bigger projects.

"I’ve worked with Qualtrics and in quality assurance," said Mahnken. "I have also had the wonderful opportunity to build a spatial gallery for guided and self-guided tours relating to a virtual reality project the team designed."

While students are mainly responsible for securing their own work-study job, speaking with the Student Financial Services department at your university ensures you are applying for the best work-study job for you.

A work-study job is just like any other job. When looking for a position, you should consider your interests along with your future career plans. During your work-study role, you can learn valuable soft skills while earning your degree and gaining experience and knowledge for your personal and professional goals.

Is Federal Work-Study the same as FAFSA?

Mary Young with the text Mary YoungWhen applying for college, you should fill out a FAFSA. A FAFSA is a free application where the federal government gathers your financial information to assess the kind of loans and other financial aid you qualify for.

"Federal work-study is part of the financial aid package, and students must complete a FAFSA form to be considered for work-study," said Mary Young, associate director of Student Employment for Student Financial Services at SNHU.

When filling out your FAFSA, ensure you are indicating you are interested in a work-study to be considered for the aid.

In your financial aid offer, you may also be awarded different loans and grants that will need to be paid back to the government, which is different from a federal work-study.

"Work-study does not need to be paid back while loans will go into repayment," said Young. "Students will receive a bi-weekly paycheck based on the number of hours that they work. The money goes directly to them whereas loans are applied to the student's bill."

Is it Worth it To Do a Work-Study?

If you are offered a work-study in your financial aid award, you do not have to accept it, but you should consider it. According to Mahnken, "the value is incredible."

Your work-study can provide you with essential knowledge for your career. Mahnken said her work-study has allowed her to prepare for her future career. She learned about academic writing, storytelling, education technology and more.

"I have been so blessed and lucky to have this chance," said Mahnken.

Another online student Zachary Briggler '22 worked as a video editor for the School of Business at SNHU found his experience valuable, too. He learned how to work in a team environment and collaborate with others while doing something he loved.

"I think a work-study is worth it… I got experience working with people, and I got paid for doing something I already enjoyed, which was editing videos," said Briggler.

Your work-study position may not only teach you the skills necessary for your future career goals, but it could end up being your future career.

Young, who works with SNHU students who have federal work-study, has had students go on to gain full-time positions from their jobs.

She had one student spend four years as a shelter assistant at an Animal Rescue League through the federal work-study program.  After graduation, the shelter hired the student full-time as an adoption counselor, where they still work today.

"Students are going to gain transferrable skills that any employer will be looking for when they graduate," said Young. "For example, time management, critical thinking and problem-solving are just a few skills to be learned in a work-study position."

Work-study is a good opportunity to work and go to school simultaneously. If you receive the financial aid offer a work-study is a  great way to help alleviate your financial needs in college while allowing you to prepare for future personal and professional goals and make the most of your college experience.

Online. On campus. Choose your program from 200+ SNHU degrees that can take you where you want to go.

Alexa Gustavsen '21 is a writer at Southern New Hampshire University. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

Explore more content like this article

A student researching what nonprofit university means on a laptop.

What Does Nonprofit Mean for College Students?

The main difference between profit and nonprofit universities is how they spend the money they receive. Being a nonprofit university means that the revenue earned is reinvested into programs and services that help students and on initiatives that contribute to the university’s mission.
A young woman filling out a student loan application.

What is a Student Loan and How Does it Work?

When considering a degree there are financial implications to consider, such as how you'll pay for college. For many, it can involve student loans. A student loan is money you can borrow from the U.S. Department of Education or a private organization to pay for college and repay later with interest.
A man reads a financial award letter

How to Better Understand Your Financial Aid Award Letter

Understanding your financial aid award letter and what it means is a great way to prepare yourself for college. Financial aid is money that can help you pay for college, but the process is known for being confusing. Here's what you need to know about your financial aid award letter.

About Southern New Hampshire University

Two students walking in front of Monadnock Hall

SNHU is a nonprofit, accredited university with a mission to make high-quality education more accessible and affordable for everyone.

Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs. Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.