Need money for school? Let's face it, an education at a liberal arts college in America may not be cheap. But it may be worth the expense! And there are options which may help you pay for your post-secondary education. There are two main funding options: awards and aid.
Awards offered by liberal arts colleges may be of four types: institutional, private, state and federal.
- Institutional: Many liberal arts colleges offer scholarships on the basis of academic, athletic or other special achievement. Merit scholarships, which range between around $5,000 to over $20,000 per year, are generally for outstanding academic achievement, and candidates may be selected by individual schools and departments within a college. In some cases, all first-year applicants are automatically considered for certain scholarships, while others require an application. Check with the school and with the academic department you are hoping to major in. Some merit awards are offered only to students demonstrating financial need, while others are awarded without regard to a family's finances.
- Private: Private scholarships (also known as outside awards) are provided by donors outside the university or college, and may range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand. These can come from small local service organizations, large corporations, professional organizations or even government departments. These awards may favor applicants from certain regions, of a certain cultural background or gender, or going into particular fields of study. Find out from the various organizations in your community if they have scholarships and what their criteria are, and once you know what you want to major in, look up any professional associations (for instance browse the member organizations of the National Humanities Alliance) to see what might be offered.
- State and Federal: For information on specific state and federal scholarships and awards, check out the student assistance office of your state as well as the US Dept of Education website. Some of these awards may be limited to applicants to particular programs.Don't assume that only the big schools can offer you financial awards!
On the other hand, you also have the option of applying for scholarships at organizations, institutes or program-related associations completely independently of the school. For example, Dance/USA or the New York Women in Communications Foundation (which awards scholarships to female students annually based on academic excellence, need and involvement in the field of communications). Liberal arts colleges cover a wide range of programs, so investigate both national and local organizations--if you don't know where to start, try asking at your community church, since many liberal arts colleges are faith-affiliated.
Student financial aid can be divided into two categories: federal student aid and college aid.
Federal Aid programs include grants, work-study, Stafford loans and PLUS loans.
- Grants: Unlike loans, grants may be based on financial need and don't need to be repaid. The US Department of Education runs a number of different grant programs which can give you up to just under $5,000 per year. Not everyone is eligible for every grant, however: each type of grant may have different eligibility requirements and conditions, so be sure to check them all to see which ones you might qualify for. You may even be eligible for more than one!
- Federal Work-Study (FWS): FWS is another federal aid option that does not involve repayment These positions differ from other campus jobs only by their funding source. By filing a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), you also apply for FWS, which is based on your financial eligibility.
- Stafford Loans: These are loans for students, with the money coming either from the federal government or a bank, credit union, or other lender that participates in the program. Students entering into first year can apply to borrow between $5,500 and $9,500. These loans do need to be repaid, but the repayment schedules may differ. To apply for these loans you need to fill out a FAFSA, which you can do online.
- PLUS Loans: These are loans for parents who are supporting dependant undergraduate students. These funds are sent to the school and applied to your account, and will also eventually need to be repaid.
College aid involves several types of funding. On one hand, colleges administer federal campus-based aid programs. This need-based aid is made up of three federal programs that are administered directly by the colleges. Not all schools participate in all three, so check with the colleges you are considering. These campus-based programs may provide a limited amount of funds for each school to administer each year, so be sure to apply for federal campus-based aid early. Each school sets its own deadlines for campus-based aid which differ from the FAFSA deadlines.
On the other hand, institutional or college grants may help make up the difference between college costs and what a family can be expected to contribute. Most liberal arts colleges have a division or department of financial aid where you can often find a cost/ financial aid calculator, lists of financial aid available and the necessary downloadable forms. Some grants come with certain obligations, so you'll want to find out about the types of grants awarded by each college you are considering: don't be shy about contacting the school's financial aid office for information.