Happy Financial Aid Awareness Month! February is the time to learn how you can fund your education with various financial aid options. In order to receive federal financial aid, you must submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Once your FAFSA has been submitted, your school’s financial aid office will notify you of your aid eligibility. Before you decide which options you’ll accept, take time to learn about the different kinds of aid that are available to you. Since they’re all beneficial, here’s an overview of each type of financial aid.
- Scholarships. Potentially the most significant type of financial aid available is a scholarship. It’s free money you can earn from your own hard work, financial need, merit, family history, skills, hobbies or athletics. The more scholarship applications you complete, the more likely you are to win an award. While you don’t have to submit a FAFSA to apply for a scholarship, some programs may request that you do. Scholarship applications could ask you to write an essay, submit a video, take a photograph or complete a service project. To make sure your application matches the scholarship requirements, read all directions carefully before you start the process. If you’re not sure where to look for scholarships, UCanGo2.org and OKcollegestart.org are great places to start your search. Remember that scholarships can be the additional assistance you need to help you reach your educational goals.
- Grants. Sometimes referred to as free money since they usually don’t have to be repaid, grants are given to those who demonstrate financial need. A common type of grant is the Pell Grant. The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, or FSEOG, is not as common since it is only given to students who show extreme financial need. For students interested in becoming teachers, there’s the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grant, or TEACH Grant. Students interested in the TEACH Grant should carefully read all guidelines. If the grant requirements are not met, the money could turn into a loan that must be repaid with interest. Additionally, there’s the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant for those who’ve lost a parent or guardian due to military service in Iraq or Afghanistan after 9/11. As with any type of financial aid, be sure to speak with your financial office if you have questions about grants.
- Work-study. Also called earned aid, work-study allows students to work and earn money for college expenses while they’re in school. Work-study positions are part-time jobs that can be on or off campus. The supervisors over these positions tend to recognize that school is a priority and are usually mindful of your class schedule. Take advantage of these positions because they can give you work experience and time to focus on your academic responsibilities. Each school will have different ways to apply for a work-study job, so talk with your school to learn more about the application process.
- Student Loans. While this type of aid is borrowed money that must be repaid with interest, student loans can help you bridge the gap between grants and scholarships. When it comes to borrowed money, it’s important that you borrow only the amount you need to pay school expenses! Federal loans can be beneficial due to their fixed interest rates (it will not change over time) and flexible repayment options. One type of federal student loan is the Direct Subsidized loan. This aid is for undergraduate students who demonstrate financial need. The government will pay the accruing interest on a subsidized loan while the student is enrolled in school at least half-time. Another federal loan, the Direct Unsubsidized student loan, is for students who do not show financial need. With this loan, the interest will always be accruing on the loan and students will be responsible for paying the interest. For those who need extra financial assistance there’s the Direct Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students or the Direct PLUS loan. Parents of dependent undergraduate students can apply for the PLUS loan to help cover additional college expenses for their child. In order to receive a Direct PLUS loan, parents must complete the loan application and meet certain credit requirements. Students will have six months from the time they graduate, drop below half-time enrollment or leave school to start repaying Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans. Those who take out a PLUS loan will have to start repayment once funds have been disbursed.
Now that you know a little more about financial aid, use this month to decide which options could be right for you. For more financial aid information, go to StudentAid.gov.