Need money for school? Let's face it, post-secondary education in America isn't cheap, regardless of whether you go to a state or private school. But it's definitely worth the expense! And there are a variety of options to help you pay for your university education. There are two main funding options: awards and aid.
Awards for students applying to universities can come from different sources. On one hand, you have awards offered through the schools themselves. These may be of four types: institutional, private, state and federal
- Institutional: Universities, particularly the private ones, can be extremely expensive. Most universities therefore offer scholarships on the basis of artistic, 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 an institution. 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.
Universities may be of different types: women's, historically black, Christian, Catholic, public and private, and institutional awards can vary according to the type of institution it is.
- Private: Private scholarships are administered by the university, but the funds are provided by outside donors. These awards may range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand and 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 Future Business Leaders of America) to see what's 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.
On the other hand, you also have the option of applying for scholarships at organizations, institutes or associations completely independently of the university. For these, you can search by program or by institute type. For example, if you are applying to an engineering program, check out professional associations like the American Institute of Chemical Engineers to see what scholarships or awards they may offer. Or if you are applying to a private historically black university, then you'd want to look up he NAACP scholarships run by the United Negro College Fund (UNCF). And if it's a Christian or Catholic school and you don't know where to look for awards information, you can always start by asking at your community church.
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, and other grants may be available through your state or school. Not everyone is eligible for every grant, however: grants often have different requirements and conditions, so be sure to check them all to see which ones you might qualify for. You may even be able to earn 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.
On the other hand, institutional or college grants help make up the difference between college costs and what a family can be expected to contribute. Grants are given according to financial need, but also for students from specific situations, such as out-of-state or diversity grants for traditionally underrepresented students. Most private universities and 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 a school's financial aid office for information!
NOTE: Financial aid may be available for those who qualify. Job placement is not guaranteed.