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Can international students qualify for work study?

interstride logo by Interstride
October 25, 2023

As an international student studying in the US, you might come across the term “work-study,” or in searching for jobs you might see “work-study only” in the job description. This will likely come up as you are searching for on-campus jobs. If you’re wondering what “work-study” means, read more to find out.

What is work-study?

Federal work-study is a US government program that allows undergraduate and graduate students with financial need to work part-time and earn money to pay for their education. Federal work-study programs are school-sponsored, meaning that work-study positions are offered through colleges or universities that participate in the federal work-study program. Work-study programs, job opportunities, application processes, and requirements vary by school. Participating colleges and universities typically partner with both on and off campus employers to offer eligible job opportunities.

Not only do work-study positions help to ease the financial burden for students, they also are more flexible in comparison to typical part-time jobs, are typically designed with student schedules in mind, and are often incorporated as part of a student’s financial aid package.

Who qualifies for work-study?

Generally, all eligible students who have proven that they need further assistance to finance their education, can qualify for work-study. Criteria for eligible students includes students who:

  • Are a US citizen or eligible non-citizen
  • Demonstrate financial need
  • Are enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate program
  • Have submitted the FAFSA (Federal Free Application for Federal Student Aid)

Can international students qualify for work-study?

Unfortunately, as work-study is federally funded, the program is not open to international students. This means that some on-campus jobs may be “work-study only,” or only available to domestic students participating in the program. However, some schools have special policies that allow all students, including international students, to take advantage of work opportunities that are otherwise reserved for students in the federal work study program. Often these work opportunities are funded directly by the school.

The University of Pennsylvania uses institutional funding, rather than federal funds, to offer work-study programs to eligible international students. Similarly, the University of Mary Washington offers “institutional work-study,” in which wages are provided by the departments the positions support.

While some on-campus jobs can be labeled as “work-study,” most will not. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), for example, encourages all students to work during the academic year, offering jobs in on and off campus offices, labs, and other departments that might align with student interests. Note that your ability to work on or off campus may be dependent on your visa type, so be sure to review the applicable policies.

Is work-study the same as working while a student?

No. While it may be called different things in other countries, work-study in the United States most often refers to the federal work-study program. Working while studying as an international student though, can have the same impact as federal work-study on domestic students. Working while studying as an international student can allow you to finance your educational expenses and tuition, as well as save money for other expenses or daily needs. Working while a student can also help you to gain real-world experience in your field of study, and meet new people and expand your network.

Interstride tip: International students should seek guidance from the office of career services, or the international students office, to review what job opportunities might be available to international students.

Final thoughts

While federal work-study is not an option for international students, schools may have programs or special policies that allow international students to work in jobs reserved for federal work-study. Additionally, international students will still have many opportunities to be employed while enrolled as a student, such as on-campus jobs, Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT).  Being enrolled as a student, and working on-campus, is something you can do starting in your first year. Remember to utilize the international students office, and/or the career services office for guidance about on-campus positions.