By Dawn Handschuh
Many students embarking on higher education will need to apply for financial assistance. Often, aid comes from a variety of sources, allowing students to cobble together multiple ways of funding to meet school-related costs.
You may be wondering just what is financial aid and how does it work? To answer these questions and figure out the best options tailored to your situation, it’s helpful to get familiar with the different types of financial aid that are available.
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The Federal Student Aid Estimator is a valuable tool to predict the amount of federal student aid you may be eligible for. But truly beginning the process of pursuing financial aid involves completing your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. After your school’s financial aid office receives your completed FAFSA, it will assemble an aid package tailored to your needs.
Depending on your situation, you may be eligible for any or some of the following.
The wonderful thing about grants is that you generally don’t have to pay them back! For this reason, you should thoroughly research all grant possibilities before investigating other options.
Grants can come from the federal government, your state government, your college or private institutions. Apply for any that you may qualify for, being careful to note application deadlines and terms.
Some well-known federal grant programs include:
Federal Pell Grants are based on financial need. This is determined by your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and the “cost of attendance” at your school, which includes not just tuition but also housing, meals and related expenses. They are usually awarded to undergraduate students.
Maximum amounts for a Pell Grant may change yearly. For the 2023-2024 academic year, for example, the maximum grant is $7,395. To get a better idea of what you might receive, you’ll need to know:
Check the Federal Pell Grant payment schedule for your estimated grant.
The FSEOG program is managed by the financial aid office of participating schools. Students may receive from $100 to $4,000 per school year depending on the availability of FSEOG funds at the school you are attending, your financial need and the amount of other aid you are awarded. Because each school receives a certain amount of FSEOG funds for the year, it is important to apply early to avoid missing your school’s deadline.
The federal government also helps pay educational costs for students not otherwise eligible for a Federal Pell Grant whose parent or guardian served in the military and died as a result of service during the post-9/11 Iraq or Afghanistan conflicts or whose parent or guardian was a public safety officer and died as a result of active service in the line of duty.
Through an Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant, you may receive a grant equal to that of a Federal Pell Grant. However, to qualify you must have been younger than 24 or enrolled in college or career school at least part time at the time of your parent’s or guardian’s death.
Those headed for a teaching career may be eligible for a TEACH grant of up to $4,000 a year. To be eligible, you must sign an agreement to do all of the following or risk having your grant turned into a loan that you must repay:
Academic requirements do exist.
Like grants, scholarships generally don’t need to be repaid. They may be offered by private companies, civic groups or schools. Scholarships may be merit or need based, but they may also focus on students with a specific career interest.
To find scholarship opportunities, you can:
Application deadlines vary, so research scholarship opportunities early.
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According to Stacy Tucker, vice president of financial aid operations at University of Phoenix (UOPX), any funding source outside of loans will help lower borrowing costs. What’s more, there are opportunities to find unclaimed scholarships.
“There are many scholarships that go unused every year,” Tucker says.
If employer benefits are available, Tucker adds, speak with your employer’s human resources department as well as your school’s financial aid office to understand how you can best maximize those benefits.
The Federal Work-Study program lets you work part time to help pay for school at participating universities. Community service work and work in your chosen field of study is emphasized whenever possible. How many hours a week you can work depends on the availability of Federal Work-Study funding at your school and your available financial need.
Borrowers who acquire a loan must repay it with interest. Loans can come from the federal government, private lenders or your home state’s higher education agencies, and they may be offered as part of your school’s overall financial aid offer.
Federal student loans and federal parent loans often have better interest rates and benefits (e.g., fixed interest rates and income-driven repayment plans) than loans from private lenders, like banks or credit unions. So, look first at federal student loans, which include:
Direct Subsidized Loans offer better terms than Direct Unsubsidized Loans to undergraduates who demonstrate financial need. The amount you can borrow depends on your student status and available financial need. You can borrow up to $5,500 a year if you’re an undergraduate, depending on what year you are in school and the cost of attendance.
The U.S. Department of Education pays interest on your loan while you remain in school, are in a deferment period, and for six months after you drop below half-time enrollment at school.
Direct Unsubsidized Loans are available for both undergraduate and graduate students, and you don’t need to show financial need. Undergraduate students can borrow up to $12, 500, depending on what year you are in school and your dependency status. As a graduate student, you can borrow up to $20,500.
The amount you receive depends, in part, on what year you are in school, and there are higher loan limits for “independent” students.
For the 2022-2023 school year, fixed interest rates for Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans are 4.99% for undergraduate borrowers and 6.54% for graduate/professional borrowers. The 1.057% loan fee is proportionately deducted from each loan disbursement.
After passing a credit check, borrowers can receive up to the cost of attendance after subtracting other financial aid they’ve received. Loan repayment with a fixed 7.54% interest rate begins six months after you leave school or fall below half-time enrollment. The 4.228% loan fee is based on a percentage of the loan amount. You can choose from several repayment options designed to make repayment easier.
Parents can apply for a Direct PLUS Loan for their child, but the parents remain responsible for repayment. The interest rate and loan fee are the same for all Direct PLUS Loans.
Remember, loans are an investment in your career but also represent a legal obligation to repay what you borrowed plus interest that accrues. Tucker urges students to understand the cost of attendance, lifetime aggregate loan limits and the future monthly payment obligation so they borrow only what is needed.
“We work with students to ensure all aspects of financial aid are understood,” Tucker adds. “We provide support throughout the program as life circumstances can change and affect financial aid.”
UOPX is committed to making education affordable. The following are a few of the ways ways it accomplishes this goal.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dawn Handschuh has been putting pen to paper for more than 30 years, writing widely on topics related to student lending, personal finances, everyday money management and retirement planning. She makes her home in Connecticut with her husband and two energetic German shepherds.
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