In a busy and expensive world that requires most people to work a full-time job for survival, many college students have to take advantage of the financial aid options that they qualify for. Despite popular belief, even prospective distance learners could qualify for financial aid to help reduce the cost of tuition, books and materials, and other miscellaneous fees that come along with the pursuit of a college education. If you need financial aid in order to attend college, you should be aware of the different options that are available, how they differ, and which ones are best for you.
Need-Based vs. Merit-Based
Each type of financial aid specifies qualifications for candidates. Essentially, the two categories for financial aid are need-based and merit-based, which means that financial aid is based on a financial “need” or based on the “merit” of the student. Therefore, students who fall within a lower financial bracket may qualify for a need-based financial aid grant to assist them with the costs of college, while students who have excelled in school could receive a scholarship based on their academic performance or standing.
Types of Financial Aid
• Scholarships – This type of financial aid is merit-based and never has to be repaid. Students could receive a scholarship from a private agency, a college, or their high school music program, for example.
• Student Grants – This type of financial aid is need-based and does not have to be paid back.
• Student Loans – This type of financial aid is “borrowed” money and needs to be paid back. Some are subsidized, while others are not.
• Work Study – This type of financial aid is acquired through a student work program. The student commits to work on or near campus and is paid for the work.
Inquire At the College of Your Choice
If you are thinking about getting your degree through an online college, be sure to ask about any discounts, because many online colleges will offer one up front to encourage you to start classes. Many colleges, both online and traditional campus colleges, will offer grants and scholarships, too. Speaking with an enrollment or admissions advisor can get you pointed in the right direction to find the financial aid that is right for you.
Where to Start
Student financial aid programs are provided at different levels, starting at the federal level and moving down to the state level and then private institutions. It is best to start in that order: federal, state, and then private, when searching for financial aid. Therefore, the first step you should take is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for the federal level financial aid programs, including Pell Grants, Stafford Loans, and Perkins Loans. Many private grants, scholarships and student loan programs base their decisions on the FAFSA, as well.
Can YOU Afford College?
Many students do not realize that they actually qualify for financial aid, and instead of checking into the different types that are available, often elect against going to a traditional college or pursuing their post-secondary education online because they are afraid they cannot afford it. Before discounting college as an endeavor that is simply too expensive, be sure to check into the different avenues of financial aid to find out what you qualify for.