Financial aid options college students in the U.S.
Grants. Loans. Scholarships. Work-Study are all types of financial aid, but each has its own rules. For example, grants and loans are both financial aids but a grant is not paid back, while a loan is paid plus interest. Work-study involves work projects where part or all of the salary pays for your schooling. Many undergraduates cobble together several aid packages to manage expenses.
Graduate students, on the other hand, may obtain loans or participate in work-study programs but are not eligible for Federal Pell Grants or Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants (FSEOG). Not all colleges participate in all of the federal student loan and grants programs. You will need to work closely with the financial aid office of your school to determine which programs will work for you. Pay close attention to the deadlines for applications; schools may set different deadlines than the federal deadline of June 30.
Financial aid offices and libraries are excellent sources for information about scholarships. Never pay someone for scholarship information and be wary of scams.
The U.S. Department of Education has the following financial aid programs for U.S. citizens and eligible non-citizens studying in the U.S.:
Federal Pell Grants
The government-funded Pell grant is awarded to students whose families demonstrate financial need. Apply by filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form by the posted deadline. These grants may be used by students for a first baccalaureate degree. Funds may cover tuition, fees, books, room, board, or other personal expenses.
Federal Stafford Loans (Subsidized and Unsubsidized)
Stafford loans adjust according to enrollment status and/or federal, state, or college funding. Information the student submits on the FAFSA form determines eligibility. Students with financial need can qualify for the Subsidized Stafford Loan with no interest while attending school. Students without financial need may also borrow from the Unsubsidized Stafford Loan and their interest will accrue during schooling. Award amounts are determined by the student grade level. Repayment begins six months after graduation or immediately if a student drops below half-time status.
Federal Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students (PLUS)
Parents of dependent undergraduate students may apply for the Federal Parent Loan program. The loan covers all expenses minus the income of any other aid program. PLUS loans are also adjusted with changes in enrollment status and/or federal, state or college funding. This loan also depends on credit status of the borrower and must be approved by a lending institution, such as banks, savings and loan associations, and credit unions. Income level does not affect eligibility.
A Consolidation Loan bundles other types of federal student loans, with various repayment schedules, into one loan. If you have more than one loan, a Consolidation Loan allows you make only one payment per month, and the interest rate may be lower than that on one or more of the other loans.
Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants (FSEOG)
Students whose families demonstrate financial needs are also eligible for the FSEOG, which if often offered along with the Pell Grant. Availability of funds and the timeliness of application affect the amount offered.
Federal Work-Study Program
Federal Work-Study provides an opportunity for a student to work while enrolled in college, usually at a campus-based, approved Federal Work-Study job. The government and the college pay the salary. An applicant must have financial need to qualify and awards are based on availability of funds and the number of applicants.
Federal Perkins Loans
Students who demonstrate financial need may apply for the Federal Perkins loan, which has a low interest rate that does not start accruing until repayment begins, nine months after graduation. If the student drops below full-time status, repayment may begin immediately.
Begin your search for assistance at the financial aid office of the college. Watch the dates and be accurate, neat and prompt with your applications. You can cobble together more than one program for your aid package. Once you have financial aid programs in place, be sure to maintain full-time status to keep the aid, or notify the financial aid office of any change in your status.