Will I Make More Money Through Work-Study or an Off-Campus Job?

If you are preparing to head off to college and the combined amount of grants, scholarships and loans for which you qualified still leave a shortfall in meeting your financial obligations, you may be asking if you will make more money through work-study or an off-campus job. The answer to your question depends upon a proper understanding of work-study.

What is Work Study?

Work-study is a federally funded program for undergraduate, graduate and professional-level students who demonstrate a financial need. According to the U.S. Department of Education, there are 3,400 universities and colleges that participate in the program. You must apply for the program. Financial aid eligibility is established by your FAFSA. You can work on or off-campus. If your job is on-campus, you will work for the school; if it is off-campus you will probably work for a non-profit agency. The idea is to provide service to the school or community. The school or employer pays up to fifty per cent of your wages and the program meets the rest. You will earn at least the minimum hourly wage, and perhaps more. If you are a graduate or professional student, you will probably be paid a set salary. The amount you earn depends upon the kind of work you do.

Qualifying for Work Study

Your FAFSA form will determine your eligibility for work-study. You must show financial need and maintain a satisfactory GPA. If your grades fall below a certain level, your participation in the program may be suspended. You have to apply to the program every year and you should apply early because many schools allocate their funding on a first-come, first-served basis.

Pros and Cons of the Federal Program

There are pros and cons to participating in work-study. You probably won’t need any transportation if the job is on campus, saving you transportation costs. Your employers are required to take your class schedule into account when scheduling your hours, making the job less stressful. Your money is not taxed and, on some campuses, goes directly to your tuition or fees so you don’t have the temptation of spending it on other things.

There are drawbacks to the program, though. You cannot earn more than your award. For instance, according to an article on the College Data website, if you qualified for $6,310 and earned $8,000 at your job, your financial need amount would be reduced by fifty per cent and you would lose $845 in aid eligibility. You must also keep up your grades while you participate. An off-campus (non-work study) job is not typically concerned about your GPA. On a regular off-campus job you will probably earn more money; even as a minimum wage server there are tips that could net you a decent salary. Of course this money is taxable, but the amount you earn is not limited as it is in the federal program. In addition, working a regular job means you would be paid directly and could use the money any way you choose. However, regular employers expect you to work a whole shift and you may have to work during finals week.

If you are still trying to decide on the best scenario, you should weigh the decision in light of your own needs. If you have a family, for instance, the burden of schoolwork and the demands of a regular job could mean sacrifices for your family. Consider your options and make the best choice about applying for work-study or an off-campus job.

For more information on financial aid for college, please see: What Kind of Financial Aid is Available for Graduate School?