Fall is an exciting time for all of us as we head back to campus in hopes of a great year. But for many, it’s also a time of dreading bills that range on being unaffordable. That’s why this is also the time of year to find ways to lower the cost of college, and Financial Friday is here to help. This week’s cost lowering option? Work-study.
For those not familiar, federal work-study (FWS) is one of the federal government’s many attempts to lower the cost of higher education for students. This program incentivizes schools to hire students by lowering the cost of employing them. The government grants select amounts of funding to universities each year for the purpose of hiring students for campus jobs. This academic year, Pitt students who qualify can make up to $2,000 through their FWS award.
Work-study students are paid an hourly wage on a biweekly basis. The federal minimum wage is the lowest students can be paid, and the wage varies from department to department. Many departments pay above minimum, and while rare, some wages have been as high as $15 per hour. Either way, you work through the year until you hit your cap, at which point your department decides whether to pay 100 percent of your wage or to deactivate you for the remainder of the year.
FWS covers a vast range of jobs across, and even off, campus. Work-study jobs range from clerical duties, to assisting in research, to working with creative organizations and everything in between. There are also around 25 to 30 non-university organizations that employ students through work-study. These organizations are all nonprofits, and include various notable Pittsburgh institutions, such as Carnegie Libraries and Museums, UPMC, Hillel Foundation and even Pittsburgh Filmmakers. Listings for these jobs can be found and applied for on the Pitt Source website, at www.pittsource.com.
You may qualify for work-study and not even know it. If you filled out a FASFA before the March 1 deadline last winter, the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid (OAFA) reviewed your level of financial need. If your need level qualified you for the program, you may have been notified that you are eligible to accept the award, but if you have since forgotten whether you were offered to accept, the award offer can be found in the student center under the financial aid overview section. Once you accept the award, you need to be hired for an on-campus job, at which point you will be paid through work-study.
Work-study is an area of financial aid not fully utilized by students. This year, Pitt offered the FWS award to around 5,700 students — a number that doesn’t tend to vary greatly from year to year. While there is not full data on who has taken advantage this year, last year a little under 3,200 students accepted their FWS awards, and only about 1,100 got on-campus jobs and were able to access their award. With this data, it’s safe to say only around 20 percent or Fewer students who are eligible to receive work-study aid actually do take advantage of the funds. So if you’re eligible, give it some serious thought. We all know how expensive Pitt has become, and the hours may be more manageable than you think.
If you accept work-study, you cannot work more than 20 hours in a week. There may be a few workaholics that are disappointed to hear this, but for most of us busy folks, this is welcome news. According to the OAFA, The average work-study participant works 10 to 15 hours per week, however, this will vary from position to position, considering the wide range of departments hiring.
The cost of higher education climbs with each passing year, so students have to become more creative in finding ways to lower costs. No one knows this better than the students who do qualify for federal work-study awards, so if you think you qualify, check it out, and give it some serious thought. The work study program is an effective way to cut down rising costs.