Master College Work-Study Programs with These Timely Tips

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Brian O'Connell

By Brian O'Connell

April 9, 2019

A new report states that colleges can do much better with work-study programs, especially in the area of matching up students with work-study jobs that mirror their career intentions. The report has practical implications for students who seek part-time student employment on or near campus.

The report, issued by NASPA, shows that colleges and universities need to step up their game to help students gain the most from their work-study experience.

“Throughout the years, institutions of higher learning have advanced the use of the Federal Work-Study program and institutionally funded campus-based employment opportunities to provide students supporting campus operations with modest financial support,” the report states.

“However, if designed and operated effectively, institutions can use their on-campus student employment program to provide students with meaningful learning and engagement opportunities that can help with retention and build career-readiness skills.”

A good work-study experience is good news for both colleges and students.

A separate report by the ACT Center for Equity in Learning, states that college students who participate in work-study programs demonstrate higher graduation rates than students who don’t participate in work-study programs.


Getting a Grip on College Work-Study

College students who want to participate in work-study programs need to get their ducks in a row.

First, you’ll have to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to apply for Federal Work-Study jobs. Work-study eligibility is tied to the financial information provided on the FAFSA.

The FAFSA task is easy. All you have to do is answer “yes” to the question “are you interested in being considered for work study?”

Once you get your financial aid package, you may see a line for work-study, if you qualified for a work-study job. Note that work-study pay isn’t tied to your tuition payments – the money you earn from a work-study job is yours to keep and spend as you see fit.

The good news is that your school likely has a work-study program – more than 3,400 colleges and universities offer work-study opportunities, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

The bad news is you’ll need to hustle to make sure you get a work-study job. Most colleges and universities have more students qualifying for work-study jobs than they have the jobs. If you procrastinate, there might not be any work-study jobs left by the time you start looking for a job.

College students hunting for the perfect work-study gig should take the following steps:

Where to go first: College students should start their search for work-study jobs at their college’s financial aid office or student employment center. A talk with one of your school’s financial aid administrators can also help you hone in a work-study job that fits your schedule and may even match your field of study. For example, a statistics major may find work as a math tutor, which pays up to $19 per hour at the University of Washington, for example.

Don’t expect more than you deserve. College students won’t exactly grow wealthy from their work-study jobs. By federal law, the amount of cash you can earn from a work-study position can’t exceed the amount of money awarded in the work-study portion of the student’s financial aid package. If you are awarded $2,500 in work-study funds, that’s your ceiling – you won’t earn any more than that.

The average work-study amount awarded varies from year to year. According to the Federal budget, the average work-study award is $2,347. Three quarters of the Federal Work-Study award comes from the federal government and the remaining 25 percent from the employer.

A good rule of thumb for students to use in calculating a weekly paycheck is as follows: The dollar amount of the annual work-study award divided by the number of weeks in the academic year (typically, 30) is the total amount of money a student can expect to make per week.

The IRS will want to hear from you. Work-study funds must be reported on the student’s federal income tax return for the year. Expect to get an IRS W2 form from your employer – use it to complete your tax return.

Federal Work-Study funds are subject to federal and state income taxes. However, if you are enrolled full-time and work less than half-time, Federal Work-Study earnings are exempt from FICA taxes (Social Security and Medicare).

Work-study pay cannot be lower than the federal minimum wage. Work-study students cannot earn less than the federal minimum wage, which stands at $7.25 per hour – most gigs pay better than that, however. Some institutions also pay more for certain work-study positions and for graduate students who hold work-study jobs.

Your job is tied to academic eligibility. Federal work-study gigs require college students to maintain their academic eligibility. As a work-study employee, you’ll need to maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP). Grade point average minimums are also dependent on the student’s college or university. That said, a minimum grade point average rule of thumb is 2.0 on a 4.0 scale.

While policies vary from college to college, failing to meet the minimum academic standard will put you out of your work-study job, and often getting back into eligibility mode can be difficult. That’s why it’s best to keep well clear of your school’s minimum academic standards.

Hunting for a specific job. Your best bet for actually landing a work-study job is to start on campus. Virtually all colleges and universities have online portals and web sites with on- and off-campus job listings. It’s also a good idea to visit possible job sites directly.

Go to the library, check in with your academic dean’s office and ask about jobs in your field of study, and ask any dean’s office about potential openings for the best gigs, like tutoring, health care services, or working in the school’s public relations office.

Other highly desirable jobs include working in the campus bookstore, being a lifeguard at the campus pool, working in your school’s social media office, being a research assistant, and being a campus tour guide. The pay can be ample. For instance, being a student assistant in the State University of New York education system pays a top rate of $23 per hour.

It’s also worth noting that 7% of all college work-study jobs must be community-service based, according to the U.S. Department of Education. That makes gigs like child care or tutoring easier to obtain.

Your school may also offer job fairs at the start of a semester where on-campus and off-campus gigs are promoted. Ask your college’s student employment or financial aid office if job fairs are on the calendar.

Let the employer know you’re work-study eligible. This only applies to on-campus jobs, but always let a potential employer know you’re a work-study student. They may not know otherwise, and often on-campus hiring managers are encouraged to hire work-study students. That’s an advantage, so mentioning your work-study status up front is highly recommended.

Look for jobs off campus, too. If you can’t land a good work-study job on campus, head out into town and look for a part-time job. Working at a cafe or pub, or working at a gym or YMCA, for example, can get you some much-needed part-time cash and help you build a resume for summer jobs and for after graduation.

If you have a car, give Uber or Lyft a shot, and make money driving paying customers around. An added benefit is you can fit the driving gig around your academic schedule.

Get Going and Get Paid

The fact is, there are many work-study and part-time jobs available if you know where to look, are diligent about your job hunt, and are willing to hustle.

That’s actually the case for any job hunt, so getting some practice interviewing, presenting yourself in the best light, and negotiating a salary can come in handy down the road – when you’re looking for your first professional job.

A good place to start:

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