Financial Aid 101:Your Options and What You Need to Know
College is expensive but that doesn’t mean you can’t earn your degree. There are lots of financial aid options out there and with the variety of opportunities available, chances are that one of them will be the perfect fit for you.
Who it’s For- Scholarships aren’t just for straight-A students. There are scholarships available for students with good grades, specific backgrounds, family situations, talents and even contest winners.
How it Works- A scholarship is money given to you to use for tuition, books and other college expenses. It is not a loan, so you don’t need to pay it back. Some scholarship application rules specify what you can use the funds for.
How to Apply- Scholarships are available through associations, businesses, non-profits and other organizations. You can search online resources or talk to your school advisor to find scholarships you may qualify for. FastWeb is a great place to start your scholarship search.
Who it’s For- Federal grants are generally for students with low incomes. There are very specific guidelines on who qualifies for grants, based on their income. In most cases, these are for undergraduate students who do not already have a bachelor’s degree.
How it Works- If you are awarded a grant you do not need to pay it back. Grants are funds from the government that are set aside specifically to help students gain an education. The amount you are awarded will depend on several factors, including your income and tuition costs.
How to Apply- To apply for a federal grant, you will need to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). You may reapply for this grant each semester and be awarded funds multiple times.
Who it’s For- Tax credits are for anyone who attends college and would like to offset education expenses. To qualify, you must not have completed the first four years of college, be a half-time or full-time student and meet other specific requirements.
How it Works- There are two education tax credits in the United States: The American Opportunity Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit. Both of these credits reduce the amount you have to pay in income taxes for the year so you can use the money you save to pay for college.
How to Apply- The IRS provides details on how to qualify for and claim the American Opportunity Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit.
State Government Aid
Who it’s For- State government aid is generally available to students enrolled in accredited colleges and in some cases you must be a legal resident of the state to qualify for it.
How it Works- Every state offers different kinds of aid, like grants, scholarships and other programs. In most cases, state government aid is not a loan that needs to be repaid.
How to Apply- To find out what kind of state government aid is available to you, visit your state government’s website or talk to your school advisor.
Who it’s For- Student loans are widely available to both undergraduate and graduate students. There are a few different kinds of federal loans as well as private loans available.
How it Works- Student loans are funds that are paid directly to your school to cover your tuition and other expenses. They do need to be repaid and have an interest rate, although federal loans usually have lower rates. Each lender has different requirements you will need to meet to qualify.
How to Apply- If you are interested in a federal student loan, start the application process by completing a FAFSA.
Military Financial Aid
Who it’s For- Military financial aid is available for active members of the military, military members’ widows and dependents and students whose parents served in the military.
How it Works- Different organizations, non-profits and the government offer military financial aid. A few major programs include: Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) Scholarships, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Education Benefits, Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant and Additional Federal Pell Grant Funds.Some lenders also offer things like no accrual of interest, limited interest rates and deferment options to those who qualify.
How to Apply- Talk to your school advisor to find out what kinds of ROTC benefits you may qualify for. You can apply for VA benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. For Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants and other Pell Grand Funds, fill out the FAFSA form and talk to your school advisor.
Federal Work-Study Programs
Who it’s For- Federal Work-Study Programs are for both undergraduate and graduate students who demonstrate financial need. This option is only available to students who are attending a school that is part of the federal program.
How it Works- This program will help you find a part-time job so you can work while you are attending classes. In most cases, your job will be focused on community service or the field you are majoring in.
How to Apply- To apply for this program, contact your school’s financial aid department to find out if your school participates and what your options are.
Individual School Options
Who it’s For- Different schools offer their own financial aid programs to students who qualify and this option is mostly available to half-time or full-time students.
How it Works- Each school has its own set of requirements, application processes and procedures.
How to Apply- Contact your advisor to find out if your school offers any financial aid programs and how you can apply.