Overview of Financial Aid
Your education is called an “investment” because increased training will increase the salary you can expect to earn throughout your life. However, to maximize the return on your investment and decrease the pain of shelling out for your education, you’ll want to investigate all the financial aid options open to you.
Federal Financial Aid
The type of aid that is most universally available to U.S. post-secondary students is financial aid offered through the Federal government. The Federal Student Aid program uses your yearly income, asset net worth, and the cost of the program you’ll be attending to determine how much aid you’ll be eligible to receive. Most students receive a mix of several types of aid, depending on the cost of college and the amount they and their families can afford to pay:
- Pell Grants: These are grants from the Federal government that never have to be repaid.
- Work-Study: The Federal government provides funds that allow the student to earn their aid in the form of hourly wages. Work study funds can often be put towards work that is not usually paid, such as interning at a non-profit.
- Loans: The Federal government provides a few types of low interest loans that students do not have to begin repaying until several months after graduation.
To be eligible for Federal aid, you’ll need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. You’ll also need to attend an institution that is approved to receive Federal funding; contact a school’s financial aid counselor to find out if it is approved.
State Financial Aid
Many U.S. states have their own scholarship, grant, and student loan programs. This site has links to all state department of education pages; contact your state to learn about its financial aid programs.
Alternative Government Aid
There are other Federal aid programs that you might be eligible for, depending on your background or experiences. For example, U.S. veterans may be eligible for aid through the G.I. Bill or the Department of Veterans Affairs. You could volunteer community service through AmeriCorps to earn student loan forgiveness, or look up student job availability in government agencies.
School-Based Financial Aid
Another important consideration is the way a particular education program administers its own financial aid program. What sorts of aid does the school make available, and how does it calculate the students’ need for aid? Some schools give out need-based aid packages, where they ensure that the student receives financial help for all school-related expenses not covered through Federal, state, or private funding. Many schools also offer merit scholarships for certain types of students.
Scholarships from businesses, community organizations, and philanthropic foundations can also be a way to get extra money for school. Focus on local or school-specific scholarships first; you’ll be competing against a smaller applicant pool and more qualified to win. Then you can apply for nation-wide contests. (studentaid.ed.gov)