Reduce Your Tuition Stress: Financial Aid 101

The final installment of our “Back to School Special” blog series provides some guidance into a very important, but often under-utilized resource: Financial Aid. Tracey Bauer provides a concise, informative primer on some financial assistance options you can use to pay for college. Enjoy!

Financial Aid – most of us have to deal with it; we just don’t understand it.

Well, just like the introductory courses you take in the early stages of your college career, it’s good to take a crash course in financial aid as well. To get the ball rolling on understanding your college finances, we welcome you to a brand new class entitled, “Financial Aid 101.”

Welcome students!

Lesson Number 1: Definition of Financial Aid 

This is any money you receive or earn to cover your educational costs.

Lesson Number 2: Common Types of Financial Aid

  • Loans.  Let’s face it, nobody wants to think about borrowing money they will just have to pay back later.  However, sometimes education loans are a necessity to get you through college.  Unfortunately, we are not all Scrooge McDuck, rolling in the gold and green.  There are a number of loans available to college students.  Stafford Loans (both subsidized and unsubsidized) and Perkins Loans are often provided by the government.  Subsidized Stafford Loans are based on financial need.  Interest will not accumulate if you are in school at least part time, as the government takes care of the loan interest payments during your enrollment.

Unsubsidized Stafford Loans are federal loans not based on financial need.  Interest on this loan will accrue during enrollment, but does not have to be paid back until 6 months after graduation.  The Perkins Loan is need-based.  Your school will determine if you are eligible for this loan, and like the S-Stafford Loan it is subsidized, so you needn’t worry about the interest while in school.  A great benefit of the Perkins loan is the lengthened grace period, which gives you 9 months after graduation before you begin repayment.

  • Grants  That’s right, “free money.”  Grants are financial aid that you do not have to repay.  The Pell Grant is available based on financial need, designed to encourage lower-income students to pursue higher education.  On average, students receive $2,250 per semester, and may receive up to $5300.  Several other grants are out there too.  Some organizations provide grant money to their members.  For example, this writer received $2000 per semester grants from the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, which is an organization that assists in finding employment for and provides academic assistance to students.
  • Workstudy  This is a flexible, part-time work arrangement with your school.  Positions are usually in academic offices, and sometimes they even involve grounds work with the maintenance department.  These jobs vary from filing documents to cutting the grass on your college campus.   Positions are highly competitive, however, so check your school’s website and bulletin boards early and often.  The money earned from these jobs specifically goes toward education.

Now that you have a better idea of the financial aid that is available, be sure to fill out your FAFSA as accurately as possible.  The FAFSA is the document that will lead you to receiving financial aid, and accurately completing it will help to give an idea of what you can receive for your educational pursuits.  Should you have any questions, drop by for office hours in the solutions center.  Financial Aid 101 class dismissed.

We hope you enjoyed this sixth and final installment of the “Back to School Special” series. Be sure to check out the entire series for information for a great school year, and beyond.

About the Author: Tracey Bauer, Blog Writer for Go Financial Aid, a financial aid consulting company that assists incoming and returning college students in receiving all Financial Aid by completing the required applications (FASFA, CSS Profile, Supplemental Forms) on-time and accurately.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=585098751 Matthew T. Forrest

    Great points, Tracy. I would just like to add a few other things that students need to know. First, students need to complete the FAFSA as close to January 1st as possible because some aid is first come first served. Second, students have the right to speak to a financial aid counselor at their school. If a student is not happy with their financial aid package they must be ready to stand up for themselves and demand to speak with a financial aid counselor. These financial aid counselors have the ability to make professional judgement reviews in which they can increase your aid package if the deem necessary. have three strong essays I have written in the past and I adapt them for different scholarships. Lastly, students need to be aware that there are a TON of scholarships out there. They are just waiting to be found! Between doing some legwork at my school and online I have won a couple of scholarships and am not paying anything for school this year. Students need to be made aware of all the options out there!