The Federal work-study program was established as a different type of aid than grants or loans. Instead of just giving a lump sum of money to a student, the program provides a part time job for the student, giving the, a chance to earn money to help pay for their schooling or living expenses.
Federal work study is granted as an “award”, which is another way of saying a cap of earnings. Money is earned, not given, but there is a maximum amount. For example, if a student gets two thousand dollars in work study award, then the student will work and get paid like any other job until that award amount is reached for the semester. After earning two thousand dollars, the student may be relieved of their job until they get another work study award. (Or in some cases, the office may choose to keep the student on as a part time employee and keep paying them)
Federal work-study aid is available to graduate, undergraduate, and professional students. The aid is based on financial need. It provides a part time job for the student only while they are enrolled in school (meaning, if they take a semester off from their classes, they also lose their job). Its available to any student, regardless if they enroll part-time or full-time.
The Federal Work Study Program is always administered through the schools Financial Aid office, so the student needs to check with the office of their school to see if they participate.
Usually, the program encourages work related to the students field of study and/or community service work. However, that is not always the case. In many cases, the student is assigned to work in one or another of the offices on the college campus. But if the job is located off-campus, usually the employer will be a local private nonprofit company, a public agency, or a business with ties to the college. The work is intended to be civic in nature, meaning its work performed in the interest of the public. That means a work-study job won’t be as a fry cook at McDonalds or running register at a gas station.
The least a student can earn on work-study is the federal minimum wage. Depending on the nature of the work, the wages could be higher. But probably not by very much. The availability of these work study jobs, and how much the overall work study award is.
Undergraduate work study students are paid by the hour, and must be paid once a month. However most schools pay bi-weekly, just as they pay their regular employees. Graduate or professional students can be paid a salary, or hourly, all depending on what kind of work they are doing. The school will pay the student directly, unless the student has set up a request that will send the pay back to the school to pay for educational or institutional fees or debts.