10 Colleges with the Best Work-Study Opportunities

Colleges with the Best Work-Study Opportunities - featured image

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 40% of full-time undergraduate students were employed in 2020, while 74% of part-time undergraduate students were also balancing work with their studies. While these figures represented a downward trend from 2015, when it was 43% of full-time students and 78% of part-time students, it cannot be denied that the work-study scheme is an essential aspect of the college experience. 

Colleges with the Best Work-Study Opportunities - fact

College students thinking about taking advantage of work-study programs in their colleges and universities must carefully consider the pros and cons of student employment. On one hand, being a working student will bring in income for tuition, living expenses, and even recreational expenses, as well as boost your networking opportunities and resume. On the other hand, balancing work and studies can be a challenge with a possible negative impact on your academic performance and overall financial aid. 

Every student’s earnings will vary depending on their place of employment, position, and number of hours worked, but $24,582 is the average work-study student salary, according to Zippia.com. Students in the states of California, Hawaii, Washington, Connecticut and Colorado earn the highest average salaries in their work-study programs. 

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With that said, here are the colleges and universities that offer excellent work-study programs for their enrolled undergraduate and graduate students. Keep in mind that there are two types of work-study opportunities, namely: 

  • The federal work-study program with funds provided by the federal government and with the FAFSA form as the primary basis for granting the need-based student aid. The jobs can be on-campus or off-campus but must be eligible for the federal work-study program. 
  • The institutional work-study programs are funded by the college or university itself, meaning the jobs are usually the on-campus type.  

In both cases, nonetheless, the working students are paid and treated like typical employees. Many colleges and universities offer both types of work-study programs.

Pennsylvania State University

Eligible students can choose from three types of work-study schemes at Penn State: 

  • The federal work-study program provides part-time job opportunities to undergraduate and graduate students, defraying their education-related costs. Students are encouraged to find work related to their academic disciplines or engage in community service work.
  • The Nittany Lions Read/Nittany Lions Count enables students to meet federal work-study requirements, too, as well as gain work experience and perform community service. Students are placed in childcare centers, schools, and museums, among other community organizations, where their skills in reading, math, and the sciences can be used for learning enhancements among children.
  • The Community Service Work Study encourages active participation among students in community service and service-learning experiences. Penn State has numerous community partnerships that open job opportunities, such as  Customer Experience Associate and Marketing and Media Associate, for students. 

The wages for students in work-study programs vary, but undergraduate students earn $12/hour while graduate students earn $14/hour. Such reasonable wages, combined with the numerous work-study opportunities, make Penn State’s work-study programs among the best in the country. 

Note that wages earned in work-study programs are directly deposited to the concerned student’s bank account on a bimonthly basis instead of being applied as tuition credit. Furthermore, wages must be reported as earned income and, thus, can affect federal financial aid in the subsequent academic year.

University of Southern California

Undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Southern California can also choose between the Federal Work-Study program and the institutional work-study program. The federally-funded, need-based work-study program offers job opportunities in on-campus locations and local nonprofit organizations. 

The USC Career Center administers the institutional work-study program where eligible students can become employed in a wide range of on-campus jobs. These jobs are available for both non-work-study and work-study-eligible students, which can be accessed through the connectSC portal. Examples of jobs in both categories are web developers, IT support specialists, administrative and instructional assistants, veterinary assistants, and customer service representatives. 

Most of the work-study openings are announced starting the first week of August for the fall semester. However, interested students are advised to check with their departments since job postings are usually made on an as-needed basis throughout the year. Interested students should attend the on-campus student job fair conducted during move-in week for more information about the work-study programs and available jobs.

Cornell University

Eligible students in the Ivy League university can also apply for the Federal Work-Study (FWS) for Students program. Here, undergraduate and graduate students can meet the costs of their elite education through paid work in addition to other financial aid options. Note that there’s a $3,500 limit on the work expectation for the work-study program, and the funds come from the federal government and Cornell itself. 

Keep in mind that while there are similarities, the federal work-study benefit isn’t the same as the Employment Earnings Eligibility (EEE). Students who aren’t qualified for the FWS can be awarded the EEE, a program that the federal government doesn’t fund. In both the EEE and FWS programs, a student’s net pay remains the same. 

Furthermore, the period in which the FWS can be used varies depending on the specific terms in your financial aid package. In general, it can be used for jobs during the academic year, paid internships, or summer jobs. Students can work in FWS-approved on-campus jobs and local nonprofit organizations, municipalities and schools through Cornell’s Community Work Study Program. In the case of the latter, students get their pay directly from Cornell.

Columbia University

Yet another Ivy League university with both federal work-study and institutional work-study programs for students is Columbia University. The Federal Work-Study Program for Students follows the same rules and regulations set by the US Department of Education, with Columbia’s departments offering work-study positions for eligible students. The local community organizations are also an abundant source of work-study jobs. 

Students who didn’t qualify for the FWS program can secure on-campus jobs, too, in the LionSHARE portal’s casual employment section. Jobs are usually posted in mid-August for the fall term, but job openings are also announced throughout the year. 

In both the FWS and the institutional work-study programs, students get their wages directly deposited to their respective bank accounts on a bi-weekly basis. Students’ work hours are, on average, 10-12 hours per week, while their average hourly wages are in the $15-$21.75 range.

University of Michigan – Ann Arbor

The U-M Student Employment Office administers both the Federal Work-Study Program and the institutional work-study program. Interested students will find the centralized arrangement more convenient for their needs, whether they are qualified for the FWS program or not. 

Students in the FWS program were notified of their work-study funding through their Financial Aid Notice and must comply with the terms stated therein. These terms include being enrolled for the minimum number of credits on their notice, being hired into an eligible FWS position, and meeting work commitments. 

The $15/hour rate of pay is in accordance with the university’s current rule on the minimum hourly rate for temporary job positions. Students must work 6.25 hours per week to meet the $3,00 funding amount or 5.2 hours every week for the $2,500 funding amount. 

Students who aren’t eligible for the FWS programs are encouraged to find work-study jobs, too, if they want to finance their college education. UMich and its numerous departments, such as the Housing Information Office and the libraries, have their dedicated temporary non-work-study job listings. Students will also find viable part-time work in the Ann Arbor communities.

University of North Carolina Chapel Hill

UNC-Chapel Hill is also notable for the abundant part-time job opportunities for students offered in its Work-Study programs. Students can choose from numerous meaningful jobs with reasonable wages and benefits on and off campus, particularly in community service agencies. There are also student service support officers who can guide you in choosing among work-study jobs that meet your skills, interests and career plans. 

The Federal Work-Study Program at UNC Chapel Hill is also funded by the federal government and with rules and regulations in compliance with federal laws under Title IV. Interested students must coordinate with the university’s financial aid officers for information on required forms, supporting documents, and deadlines. 

The Carolina Works work-study program has several similarities with the FWS program, such as offering on-campus and off-campus job opportunities and paying competitive wages. But Carolina Works is entirely funded by UNC-Chapel Hill, with students nominated by work-study supervisors. 

Job opportunities are posted on the JobX site. 

New York University

Students in NYU’s Federal Work-Study Program can work 15-20 hours per week when classes are in session, which will enable them to earn a set amount of wages. The weekly work hours can be increased to up to 35 hours when classes aren’t in session. 

The wages are paid directly to students on a biweekly basis that can, in turn, be used for education-related and personal expenses. While students can hold more than one on-campus job, their total weekly work hours must not exceed the maximum limit. 

NYU’s Wasserman Center for Career Development is the go-to place for information on both FWS-eligible jobs and non-FWS-eligible employment opportunities. While there are numerous jobs available across NYU’s academic and non-academic departments, getting hired isn’t a guarantee – the fierce competition can be a challenge for students. Students who have paid their tuition deposit can use the Center’s services immediately. 

The diverse job positions include office assistants, tutors and gym personnel, among others.

Valencia College

With its Work Study Programs, Valencia College makes college education more accessible to diverse individuals! First, the Federal College Work Study program is a need-based financial aid program where eligible students can work up to 20 hours every week. The minimum hourly wage of $13 can be used for education-related and living expenses; wages are released every two weeks. 

Note that students identified for the FWS program must complete a drug test and background test before starting work on on-campus jobs. Domestic students must present their Social Security Card when applying for job positions. 

Second, the institutional work-study program welcomes students who weren’t selected for the FWS program but want to benefit from it. Valencia College, particularly its departments and laboratories, offers rewarding part-time employment opportunities for hardworking students. Every department posts announcements about available job openings, so students must coordinate with concerned officials.

University of Central Arkansas

The University of Central Arkansas offers both federal and institutional student employment opportunities through its Office of Student Financial Aid. Indeed, about 13% of its students are recipients of its work-study programs that aim to provide them with meaningful work experience, networking opportunities, and extra money. Students work in on-campus jobs that pay the minimum wage and above, depending on their position. 

When classes are in session, students can work for up to 20 hours per week. With an $11 per hour wage, a 20-hour work week can result in $220 in gross wages or $3,520 per term. But emphasis must be made that being eligible for the FWS program doesn’t automatically mean getting hired or receiving the full amount of eligibility. As with any job, FWS-eligible jobs are competitive.

UCA’s institutional work-study program isn’t need-based, unlike the FWS program, and accepts both domestic and international students (i.e., with limitations for non-US citizens). Students can request assistance during the job application process but must be aware that being hired isn’t a guarantee. Interested students must contact the UCA Human Resources Office for more information.

City University of New York

The Federal Work-Study (FWS) Program at CUNY welcomes both undergraduate and graduate students with demonstrated financial need to apply. Interested students must coordinate with the Financial Aid Office for more information about the required Federal Work-Study Program Student/Employer Acknowledgements Form and supporting documents. At least half-time enrollment status must be maintained to stay in the FWS program. 

Being in a work-study program is an individual choice for a college student. As such, you must carefully consider whether the benefits of being a working student in a work-study program outweigh the disadvantages in your case. Keep in mind that there are other viable ways of financing your college education without getting into the student debt trap. 


  • National Center for Education Statistics 
  • US News & World Report 
  • Zippia