Can I Get Financial Aid Without a Job?

by Kristen May ; Updated July 27, 2017

Students often want to go to school full-time without having to worry about working a job as well. You might be surprised to learn that you are more likely to get financial aid if you don't have a job than if you do. This is because the federal government and most schools design financial aid packages to make up the difference between what you can afford to pay and what the school costs.

FAFSA

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA) asks a variety of questions about your personal finances, including your income and assets. If you are a dependent student, which most unmarried undergraduate students under the age of 24 are, the FAFSA also requires you to submit information about your parents' finances. Based on these answers, the federal government calculates how much your family should be able to contribute toward college costs, which is called your estimated family contribution (EFC).

Financial Aid Award

Each school determines the average cost of attendance for students, including their tuition, fees, room, board, school supplies, books, transportation and personal expenses. The school then subtracts your EFC from the cost of attendance to determine how much financial aid you need. Your award will likely be a combination of federal grants, state grants, institutional grants, scholarships and student loans. Having a low EFC because you don't have a job will usually increase the amount of financial aid you receive. However, much of the additional aid might be in the form of loans that you need to repay later.

Job Loss

Your financial aid award is usually based on your income from the previous calendar year. For example, if you are applying for aid for the 2012-13 school year, you will provide your income from 2011 on the FAFSA. If you do not expect to make this much money during the school year, it might be impossible for your to come up with the amount projected in the EFC. The solution to this problem is to file a financial aid review with the financial aid office at your school. Provide proof of your job loss or your current pay stubs that reflect your projected income for the school year, not your income from last year. The financial aid officers can use their professional judgment to lower your EFC based on your projected income and, in turn, give you more financial aid to meet the added need.

Work-Study Award

Part of your financial aid package might include a work-study award. This is a federal program that pays you to work a job on or near campus during the school year. You do not have to accept a work-study award, but the only alternative will probably be to take out extra loans. Most students find that working a job on campus about 10 hours per week fits into their schedules and allows them to build their resumes. Many upperclassmen get work-study jobs in their academic departments and can get helpful career experience.