One of the most worrying aspects of applying to college is working out how you are going to be able to pay for your studies. Check out our guide below to see the options that may be available to you.
Need-based aid is money awarded based on the ability of you and your family to pay for college. To apply for most need-based aid, you need to first fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). FAFSA is the determining factor controlling all federal aid programs, such as student loans and grants. Many other forms of financial aid for students, including college scholarships and private initiatives, will also use FAFSA information as a factor in determining who is eligible for their financial aid programs.
Like Merit aid, scholarships are another type of financial aid that you won't have to worry about paying back! The government, colleges, public institutions, private companies and religious groups are all possible sources of scholarships. Most are awarded based on specific criteria, such as your academic performance, extracurricular activities, community involvement, ethnic heritage or religious affiliation. Some scholarships are also need-based. No matter what the requirements, applications for scholarships are always hotly contested, so apply early! A small batch of students with 4.0 GPAs and high test scores may win a disproportionate number of scholarships.
Another great way to fund your way through college, grants are in essence money for nothing financial aid. The government aims many grants at students who would otherwise struggle to pay college fees, and these may be offered at state level, or through federally sponsored programs like the Pell Grant. They may be tailored to students who excel in an area of academic study, or be linked to the course or career that you choose to study for. Some colleges offer their own grants to students, while private groups or companies fund others. Be sure to check whether the grant you aim for has strings attached – you may find that there are certain qualifying requirements connected to your program of study or your future career.
Merit aid is usually awarded as a scholarship, in recognition of your personal achievements in a specific area of study, sports, the arts or community activity. The great thing about merit scholarships is that you do not need to pay back the money, and may be offered on a renewable basis for several years. Another advantage is that merit-based scholarships are not competitive in its nature – as long as you meet the specified requirements, you are eligible to receive this form of financial aid.
As with a normal bank loan, you will be charged interest on student loans for college courses. The good news is, institutions that offer student loans are limited to charging a capped rate of interest, so they work out to be cheaper than other types of loan. Another big advantage is that you will not usually be required to start paying back your student loan until you've secured employment after graduating. You can find out which federal student loans you are eligible for by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). While some, such as the unsubsidized Stafford Loans and Parent PLUS loans disregard your perceived level of need, others, like a Perkins loan, are needs-based. If you're still strapped for cash after trying all the federal opportunities, you can choose to look into private loan contracts with banks and credit unions, although the conditions of these may not compare favorably to federally sponsored loans.
Exactly as the name suggests, work-study programs offer you a financial incentive in exchange for work that you carry out while studying at college, and usually involve jobs that are completed on-campus.