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What the heck is work study?

An outline of a person working on a laptop

Jason Keller
November 12, 2018

Ever thought about working and attending college at the same time? It’s so common that you might start hearing about something called work study, and you may qualify for it. But what the heck is it?

Work-Study is a federal program that provides partial funding for jobs for students with certain financial need. According to Inside Higher-Ed, 1 in 10 students receive Work-Study, and it makes you more likely to graduate and begin work. There’s an expanded list of requirements at the official student aid website.

Essentially, what it does, is it offsets the cost for employers to hire you. You are still paid the same as non-Work-Study hires, but part of your wage comes from either federal or state sources.

Work-Study is something that you qualify for when you apply for financial aid and can be for on-campus or off-campus jobs, regardless if you’re an undergraduate, graduate, professional full-time or part-time student.

That’s a large pool to choose from, so to help you understand the numbers a bit better, UNC had about 711 students that work in work study positions for the 2017-2018 year. Collectively, they earned $529,167 from federal work study, and $1,315,968 from state Work-Study.

Every two-and-a-half weeks over the summer at UNC, our Work-Study students average $393, 458 in pay, and work an average of 33.5 hours per week.

A job that qualifies for work study might be off campus or on. On-campus jobs usually come through your university and may vary depending on the season (Like UNC – we go through the summer in some positions.) Off-campus employers are usually private, nonprofits organizations or public agencies, and to qualify for Work-Study, your work must be in the public interest.

You will earn at least the current minimum wage, but you might earn more, depending on:

  • When you apply
  • Your level of financial need and
  • Your school’s funding level

UNC students make the federal minimum wage, and, like all Work-Study recipients, are paid at least monthly.

And while this might seem like a great way to make a lot of money, there are some limits. For example, you cannot make more than your Federal Work-Study award, and your employer will be allowed to consider your academic performance as well as your total hours worked.

If you’ve got questions about acquiring work study, visit our Center for Career Readiness web page. If you don’t know If you qualify, talk to your school’s financial aid department, or if you’re a Bear, contact the Office of Financial Aid.


is a senior at UNC and is planning to graduate in December 2018. He is studying journalism and writing, with an emphasis in news and multimedia. He has a passion for marketing, technology and writing, and hopes to work in marketing after he graduates. When he's not at work, he likes to listen to music, read, study, write and spend time with friends.