When you ruminate on the expenses associated with college; dorm fees, meals, tuition, books, travel expenses etc. it can be very discouraging. The latest survey from College Data shows that in-state colleges charge an average of $25,290 for the academic year. That amount doubles if you are interested in a private college.  Furthermore, tuition fees can increase depending on the major you wish to pursue — pre-med, engineering, law, and science programs can cost up to $5,000 more than other majors. What’s even more daunting is that these charges appear to be rising year by year!

To help alleviate some of these extraordinary costs you can opt for a part-time job, but even that won’t be enough in most cases. Thankfully, persons wanting to pursue a college degree can access different types of federal aids made available by the government and even some private organizations.

HOW TO APPLY FOR FEDERAL AID

The only way to apply for federal or even private loans is through FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This is a mandatory online form that must be completed and the necessary documents turned in if you want to access these funding provisions. FAFSA then uses the result from the form to determine whether or not you are eligible for the available loans and grants.  Some of the eligibility requirements are that you must:

Possess a valid social security number.

Not be currently owing or in default of any other federal loan.

Not have a conviction for an offense that occurred while you were receiving federal student aid.

Be an enrolled student seeking a degree, or at least possess the eligibility requirements to attend college such as a GED or high school diploma.

WHAT ARE YOUR FEDERAL AID OPTIONS?

The government offers both merit-based and need-based financial aids. The latter, as the name suggests is reserved for students who display extreme financial need; these are available in the form of grants and loans. Meanwhile, merit-based options are awarded to students based on academic performance and special talents (for example, high grades and athletic performance) not on the basis of financial need.

Grant Financing

This is one of the ‘free money’ options, and is highly desirable by students because they not require repayment. Grants are offered by the federal government and/or state government.

The following grants are available:

Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG) –Participating schools receive these monies from the Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid. However since each institution only receives a definite amount of funding for the year, the grant is awarded to students with the direst financial need.  You can receive anywhere from $100 to $4,000.

Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) -This grant has certain limitations; only students pursuing a degree in the field of teacher education can qualify. This means you must complete coursework related to a career in teaching. TEACH also has academic requirements that you must meet in order to access the $4000 per year that’s available. You must score above the 75th percentile on at least one portion of the college admissions test or maintain a 3.25 cumulative GPA.

Conditions of the TEACH grant also require that you sign an agreement stating that after attaining your degree you will teach for at least 4 years at a secondary school, elementary school or educational organization  that caters to underprivileged students.

You must also agree to teach in a ‘high need’ field related to special education, mathematics, reading specialist, foreign language or any other field that the federal government defines as high need.

Federal Pell Grants – This is one of the most sought after grants because you can be awarded up to $6,095 per year. Plus, unlike a loan this does not require repayment. The Federal Pell grant is given to undergraduate students who display exceptional financial need.

STUDENT LOAN FINANCING

Another viable option that can help finance your college education is a loan. Student loans differ from other types of loans; meaning they are specifically designed to fund your education. These loans are considered low-risk and generally have fixed interest rates; some are even subsidized by the government. Other benefits of student loans include easier approval and realistic repayment timelines.

You can decide on a private student loan which is borrowed from a financial institution or bank. There are also federal student loans which are offered by the federal government; these are preferred over private loans because the interest rates tend to be lower and they offer more benefits than private loans. In some instances institutions will also offer loans to students who need financial assistance. Let’s delve a little deeper into the student loan options that are available and what they offer:

School loans- Some institutions have their own student loan program geared at helping underprivileged students. The amount of funding that you can receive, as well as the precise number of students who can access these loans are decided by each institution.  In these cases loan amounts and repayment options are not standard; these are also decided by the institution based on the need of the students and the amount of money the school has to offer.

Federal student loans- These are offered by the federal government and require repayment with interest! The government offers four types of direct loans under the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program.  They include:

Direct Consolidation Loans – This alternative permits you to consolidate several federal loans into one loan, which simplifies the repayment process. This consolidation option can lower your monthly payment amount since you are allowed a longer period of time to repay the loan.

Direct Subsidized Loans –These are also referred to as Stafford Loans or Direct Stafford Loans and are available to undergraduate students who display dire financial need.  Your institution will determine how much money you receive; the interest rate is paid by the U.S. Department of Education during certain periods.

Direct Unsubsidized Loans– Unlike the direct subsidized option this unsubsidized loan is not awarded based on proof of financial need. However, your school does determine how much you are able to access as calculated by your ‘cost of attendance.’  You are solely responsible for the loan repayment and the interest accumulated; unlike the direct subsidized loan, the U.S. Department of Education does not bare the interest cost! If you default on paying the interest during grace periods or while attending school it will amass; the sum will then be added to the principal amount of your loan.

Direct PLUS Loans- These monies are lent by the U.S. Department of Education and is available to professional or graduate students. This loan is to assist with education expenses that other financial aid might be unable to cover.

PRIVATE LOANS

Finance companies, banks, and credit unions also offer loan services to persons wanting to fund their education. Students frequently turn to this option as a last resort— if they were rejected from getting a federal loan or if the amount received was not enough to cover school expenses.  In most cases private loans have high interest rates than federal funding sources and the timelines for repayment are shorter.

Furthermore, you’ll find that in most situations the monthly repayments will commence while you are still attending college. If you don’t have a part-time job or some sort of consistent funding this won’t be a viable option. Another important point to note is that some of these private loan companies do not have a fixed interest rate so you might be paying a certain amount one year, and the cost can increase the next year.

SCHOLARSHIP FINANCING

Another way to finance your education is by acquiring a scholarship. This is considered a ‘gift’ so to speak and does not require repayment- except in certain situations such as:

Change to your enrollment status– You may have been awarded a scholarship under the condition that you remain a full time student; if your enrollment changes to part- time then you did not fulfill the requirements of the scholarship.  If this happens, you may have to repay all or part of the scholarship funds.

Early withdrawal– If you decide to withdraw from the program under which the scholarship was given this may also be cause for all or some of the scholarship amount to be repaid to the lender.

Scholarships are typically awarded to persons with particular talents related to sports, etc., and those who display outstanding performance in academics. However, other qualities might also deem you eligible for a scholarship; some of these include:

LGBTQ students

Females who want to pursue a course of study in an area that is currently underrepresented.

Persons who are committed to community service and development.

Minorities and particular ethnic groups.

Persons  from underrepresented communities

Students who are pursuing or plan to pursue course of studies in areas that are in-demand at present, but are not well represented such as engineering, technology, science and mathematics.

Persons wanting to pursue professions in social work, nursing and other types of human care vocations.

Persons interested in the arts.

Make sure that you read all of the information and conditions for the scholarship you are applying for.  You also need to be well informed about the eligibility for maintaining your scholarship.

WORK STUDY PROGRAMS

According to statistics from the Department of Education in the U.S over 3,400 campuses have work-study programs as part of their financial aid alternatives.  Under these programs undergraduate students with financial need are provided with part-time or full-time employment to help earn money to pay for school. There are different types of jobs offered in work-study. If you apply for a work-study program offered by your institution they will most likely place you in a job related to your field of study somewhere on the campus.

There are options for off-campus employment as well—usually in instances where institutions partner with external organizations.  In these cases you’ll most likely be employed to a public agency or a non-profit business. You have the option of working full-time for a semester or two and then opting to start classes after the period; or you can work part time while still attending classes.  You’ll be required to work a certain number of hours which will be assigned by the financial aid office at your school. They will also decide and outline the other specifications of your work-study program.

In terms of how much money you will be paid; this depends on your place of employment and the number of hours you’re allowed to work. Most (if not all) institutions put a cap on the number of hours work-study students can log per day, week, or month.  Generally speaking though, your financial need and the amount of funding available will factor into how much you’ll receive. Unlike loans and grants where the money is disbursed directly to the institution, work-study payments work a bit differently. The money is disbursed either via check or directly to your student account— unless you request that you want your funds be paid directly to the school.

Work study programs are more convenient for students than regular part-time jobs because you can schedule your work time in-between classes. Another benefit is that if you are employed on campus you won’t have the additional financial pressure of travel expenses to worry about.

OCCUPATIONAL AND OTHER SPECIAL BENEFITS

Certain occupations can also grant you financial aid privileges, though they often have conditions under which you can access these benefits.

Military affiliations-Students who have served at least a year performing duties in hostile territories or war zones might be eligible for loan forgiveness. These programs can offer anywhere between $10,000 to 65,000 per year. There is also the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant which is awarded to students whose parents or guardian died while performing military service in Afghanistan or Iraq after 9/11.

Teaching programs- Teachers are always in demand so to avoid shortage many institutions and government agencies offer attractive financial aid packages to those wishing to pursue a career in this field. The TEACH program was already mentioned under ‘grant programs’ earlier. Under the TEACH Loan Forgiveness you can qualify for up to $17,500 forgiveness on your loan. However, not all loans are eligible; The PLUS loan cannot be applied in this case, but Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans as well as Subsidized and Unsubsidized Federal Stafford Loan are eligible.

Nursing program- If you want to pursue studies in nursing and other related healthcare professions there are specific loans geared for you as well. There is the NURSE corps scholarship program which offers funding for students who are enrolled in a graduate degree, diploma, associate, or baccalaureate nursing program. Financial support under this scholarship gives you funds for tuition, books, nursing/clinical supplies and even a monthly stipend. Along with other stipulations, you must agree to work at least two years at a nursing facility where there is ‘eligible critical shortage’.

Another option for students pursuing a degree in the medical field is the Perkins Foundation Scholarship. This financial aid is administered by Scholarship America and is awarded to students who’ve already obtained an undergraduate degree and is currently pursuing either a Doctor of medicine or a medical degree in nursing or a medical- related field.

Obama Loan – The Obama administration introduced the Obama Loan Forgiveness Program in 2014 which you can still utilize today. This loan forgiveness alternative was established to help ease the financial burden of graduates who are not able to fully pay off their loans. If you have been making timely and consistent payments on your federal loans for a period of 20 years you are eligible for Obama’s forgiveness program. Furthermore, if you work in the public service you can have your loan amount forgiven within a 10 -year period.

TAX DEDUCTIONS

There are two tax credits that can help to offset the cost of repayment for your loan. One is the Lifetime Learning Credit which allows you to claim up to $2,000 for school related expenses such as books, tuition, dorm fees and other things that were bought from the school. The second tax credit you can utilize is the American Opportunity Credit. This lets you claim up to $2,500 yearly for four years while pursuing your degree.

CAN LOANS AFFECT YOUR CREDIT HISTORY?

The simple answer is yes, bad credit can seriously impact your financial future, but it doesn’t have to. Timely or early repayment is the key to ensuring that you don’t default on your loan. If you are having issues with repayment, it’s important to speak with your loan officer immediately and figure out another repayment option. In some cases if you are unable to get a job immediately after completing college, you might be granted an extension on repayment timelines.

It is always better to defer your loan payment than to default on your monthly payments. This will prevent you from fouling your credit history.  A bad credit history can negatively impact future loan applications ( car, housing, business etc.) getting approval for an apartment, credit cards, cell phone contracts and a host of other things. Additionally, in instances where you are still granted these privileges you will be charged higher interest rates, higher insurance premiums, etc.

It is extremely important that you analyze all your financial aid options, read the specifications and choose an option that is conducive to your financial needs.

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