NerdScholar Favorites: Federal Work-Study Programs - NerdWallet

NerdScholar Favorites: Federal Work-Study Programs


Average federal work-study award: $1,403

(per student in 2012-13)


Federal work-study programs offer students with financial need the chance to make money while enrolled in college. During the 2012-13 school year, federal work-study students made an average of $1,403, according to CollegeBoard. For students attending four years of college, and doing work-study throughout that time, that’s an average earnings of $5,600 to put toward tuition or other expenses.

In the past, work-study jobs have been limited to stuffing envelopes and boring desk jobs, but today some colleges are working to change that by offering positions that align with students’ professional goals. Colleges are increasingly tailoring their federal work-study programs to mirror real-world experience, offering students a way to not only earn cash while in school but also pad their resumes with practical jobs and skills. Over the past five years, the number of students working to pay for college has increased by 47 percent, according to Sallie Mae, making work-study opportunities more valuable than ever.

After reviewing a multitude of work-study programs across the country, here are six of NerdScholar’s favorite schools that are changing the federal work-study landscape. Through federal work-study funds, and often funds from the institution itself, these schools afford their students opportunities to work both on campus and within the local community, giving them unmatched experiences to draw upon after graduation.


George Mason University

With one of the most diverse student populations in the country, Mason seeks to expose students from all backgrounds to research professions through its Students as Scholars program. Through its new federal work-study program, Mason has offered more than 30 students the opportunity to work in tandem with faculty members, giving them not only a chance to earn money while in school but also to gain practical work experience.

“Students who are economically less advantaged often have fewer skills and are less represented in undergraduate research programs,” Bethany Usher, the director of the program, says. “So Mason is helping students gain those skills through work-study.” Students as Scholars is opening doors to students who traditionally may have been interested in research but felt unprepared to take it on professionally. Though it’s only a fledgling program, Usher says it is growing rapidly and has been very popular with work-study students.


University of Nebraska Kearney

University of Nebraska Kearney, or UNK, offers students a plethora of options when it comes to serving their community. With more than 300 on- and off-campus jobs to choose from, students can work as tutors, sports officials, nursing assistants, and museum tour guides, to name a few. “We encourage students to find a position that they can learn from and benefit from,” Becca Dobry, a counselor at the university, says.

The majority of work-study jobs at UNK align with areas of study offered at the university, so students can choose jobs that match up with their interests and majors. Students enrolled in the work-study program often stay with the same job for the entirety of their tenure at the school, making for great professional experience to add to their resumes and highlight during interviews when looking for jobs after they leave UNK.


Vassar College

Vassar College’s Community Service Work-Study Programs seeks to answer the following question: What can you do about poverty, homelessness, hunger, inequality, violence, pollution and ignorance? At Vassar, students can do a lot. While working at local nonprofits, Vassar students are both serving societal needs and making money to help put themselves through school. The program offers 50 students paid employment and the chance to work with one of the community partners for 8-10 hours per week. If the job is not within walking distance, Vassar provides transportation to help get students to the work site.

Community partners employing students include Battered Women’s Services, Dutchess Reentry Project, Poughkeepsie High School, the Relatives as Parents Program, R.E.A.L. Skills Network, and Spout Creek Farm.


Bloomfield College

At Bloomfield, the BEST federal work-study program helps students develop the skills they need to be successful in the workplace. But instead of just matching students with employers, the school requires students to draft a resume, apply, and interview for open positions. “Everyone sees the same opportunities, but this way students get practice applying for and landing jobs in a competitive market before they leave college,” Carol Ruiz, the director of career development, says.

Seen as a career-development experience, the program gives students the chance to cultivate technical skills and best practices for the workplace. The college offers all the usual work-study jobs, but it also places students in on- and off-campus internships, where they can work in the marketing department creating brochures, running open houses, or working on the website, or off-campus at community service jobs. These include jobs in development, HR, finance, accounting, radio, theater, and teaching. An average of 250 students participate in Bloomfield’s work-study program each year.


Drexel University

Get real-life experience working as an education research assistant, athletics photography assistant, nursing care coordinator, or social media coordinator. Located in downtown Philadelphia, Drexel offers its work-study students unique opportunities to gain professional exposure while working at the university.

Students can work in their fields of interest and choose jobs that are applicable to their majors. One such job offering is the purchasing and stewarding assistant in the culinary arts department. Students with a general knowledge of food products and food safety are encouraged to apply for the position, which involves prepping labs and special events, taking food inventory, and sanitizing labs and classrooms.


Kirkwood Community College

Located on 11 sites across seven counties in Iowa, Kirkwood serves more than 25,000 students each year. Given its multiple locations, Kirkwood is able to offer varied opportunities for students including working as nutritionists, teachers, counselors, outreach facilitators, webmasters, archives assistants, and within several positions at the VA Medical Center in Iowa City.

Representing students from every county in the state, the school is uniquely tied to the community it serves. More than 150 students participate in work-study each year, Brenda Schafer, the work-study coordinator says. Generally the students try to find a position that aligns with their program of study, she adds, and that allows them to work within the communities that raised them. Students must be enrolled in at least six credits to take part in the school’s work-study program.


Use NerdScholar’s FAFSA Guide to complete the financial aid form and qualify for federal work-study.


Schoolgirl image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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