Once you’ve decided on the school that you’re giving the next four years of your life to, it is time to consider one of the biggest factors in your college career: finances.
Most students don’t just have thousands upon thousands of dollars stashed away in a bank account, which leads many students each year to flock to the financial aid office. To avoid a great deal of confusion, there are some terms for different types of financial aid that you need to know as you evaluate your aid package and your financial options.
Merit based, Athletic scholarships, or possessing a special skill can always help you qualify for scholarships. This form of financial aid is most recommended by parents and teachers in high school because great deals of scholarships are available to anybody, most of the time all you have to do to get them is apply! When you receive a scholarship, most of the time you also do not have to pay that money back. The only condition is that you excel, and that you keep up the good work throughout your schooling!
One of the most widely known grants in the college world is the Pell Grant, which is provided by the government to students who demonstrate financial need. To demonstrate financial need, you need to fill out the FAFSA online and submit it to the schools you have applied to (you will also need your parents and their tax information!). Grants are typically need based awards given to students, and you do not need to be repay one as long as the conditions of the grant are followed while receiving it.
Also offered to students who demonstrate financial need, a school may offer work study to a student in order to earn money to put towards their schooling. If you accept work-study, you have access to jobs that typically only work-study students have access to, but keep in mind that many college students do not recommend having a job freshman year, as it can be difficult to manage your time and adjust. Explore your options for work-study if you choose to go this route, and speak with your school about what the program entails before you accept.
One of the most dreaded words in college, a loan can help you get through your schooling but may provide some painful after-effects if not evaluated carefully. Student loan debt has now eclipsed credit card debt in the United States, and this really puts things into perspective for students as they decide how much to borrow.
There are three types of loans available through the federal government: subsidized loans, unsubsidized loans, and parent PLUS loans. Subsidized loans and unsubsidized loans are taken out by the student, and the government limits how much they can take out each year based on their academic year (freshman can borrow the least, and the amount increases each year a student is in school). The difference between the two is that subsidized loans have their interest paid for by the government as long as the student/borrower is in school at least full time, and during a six month grace period after their graduation. Unsubsidized loans have their interest begin as soon as the loan is taken out, but the payments can be delayed until after graduation and a six month grace period. Parent PLUS loans are loans taken out either by the parents of an undergraduate student, or by a graduate student themselves, and the amount that can be taken out is up to the cost of attendance still needed to be covered for a student’s schooling. Parent PLUS loans also have their interest begin once the loan is disbursed.
Loans not provided by the federal government are known as private loans, and these should be evaluated and borrowed with caution. The payments may begin while in school, and the interest rates are often much higher than ones provided by the government. Both these things often make private loans not only much less appealing, but more risky to the student.
Evaluate your options for paying for school carefully and thoroughly. If an option, meet with a financial aid representative from your school and get any more information that you can about your school’s specific financial aid system. They may be able to point out options that you have never heard of, and getting advice directly from the source will help you feel informed, confident, and ready to go.
(photo by 401K under Creative Commons Attribution Generic 2.0)