Federal Work Study FAQs

Freshman year of college, I was an employee at the performing arts center on my campus as a student participating in a Federal Work Study Program (FWS). Although the idea of working part-time my freshman year didn’t originally appeal to me, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. I learned self-discipline and time management skills, and joined a student community soon after arriving on campus. Looking back, I have realized that the hesitancy I felt about the program stemmed from the fact that I applied without really knowing the answers to the most frequent questions about the program:

What is an FWS?

Many universities offer FWS programs to students by evaluating their financial need.  A set amount of money is deducted from a student’s annual tuition in return for a student committing to work part-time for the university.

How do I apply?

A student can apply to see if he or she is eligible for an FWS on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. There will be a box that needs to be marked in order to be considered for the program.

How do I accept my position within the program?

If you are eligible for an FWS, a notice will be sent to you via your financial aid award letter (which usually is available to be viewed the summer prior to the fall semester). In my case, the financial aid award letter was available online, and by participating in the program I could knock off $3,000 of annual tuition. I had to click an “Accept” box next to “Federal Work Study” on the digital copy of the letter.

What are some common misconceptions about the program?

Do your research before applying to be considered for an FWS, and many of your questions can be answered from sources online or from your school’s financial aid website (don’t follow my lead and participate in the program for an entire year before learning the answers to the most basic of questions).

Make sure that you realize…

1. Just because you check “yes” next to the FWS box, you are not guaranteed a job on campus.

Start looking for jobs early and often (I began looking on virtual job boards and campus websites as early as June before the fall of my freshman year). Apply for numerous positions, as none will be “held” for you just because you are a participant in an FWS. You will still have to apply and have an interview just as any potential employee might. However, many applications will say “Federal Work Study Candidate Preferred,” so you will have a leg-up over other applicants.

2. You do not give money that you make directly to the school

For too long, I was under the impression that the money I made at my FWS job would go straight to the university without ever landing in my bank account. Once I realized that I was receiving my salary directly (you can also set up a “direct deposit” system for depositing money), I thought I had to send all the money I made to the school at the end of the year. After speaking to a representative at the financial aid office, I found out that the money that I make is mine to keep. I could use it for living expenses, or keep it in my savings account. Although I was working for the school in return for a lower tuition, the money that I made was 100% mine.

3. You are not stuck in the job all four years of college.

You can choose to participate in an FWS on a yearly basis. If you decide that you don’t want to be a part of the program anymore, you do not have to apply for the following year (the situation is in no way “binding” for all four years of college). If you do decide to stay in the program for multiple years, you can also change jobs (although you need to make sure that the jobs are “FWS approved” before accepting them. Working at the Chipotle on campus is probably not FWS approved, but working at an information desk at a residence hall most likely will be).  

 4. Your boss will not necessarily have answers to your FWS questions

Direct all of your FWS questions to the financial aid office. Many employers are familiar with the program, but may not know answers to the specific questions you have.

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Emma Weissmann

Emma Weissmann

Emma Weissmann is a sophomore at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign pursuing a degree in News-Editorial Journalism with an interdisciplinary minor in Leadership Studies. Emma enjoys traveling, trying new foods, and snuggling up on the couch with her cat, “Louie.” She also spends her time volunteering and hanging out with family and friends.
Emma Weissmann

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