Looking for ways to pay for a post-secondary education can be both confusing and stressful. There are new terms to learn (private loans, EFC, student grants, FAFSA, government loans, etc.) and an overwhelming amount of information to process. This article is meant to help you make sense of some of the information and give you a head start. It lays out the terms you need to know and the different types of loans, scholarships, and grants. This is the perfect place to start your research and it provides links to sites that can help further your beyond what is provided here.
Financial Options for a College Education
There are different ways to pay for your college education. You can work and save up money, taking classes a few at a time as money is available. You can receive gifts from friends and family to help pay your way through school. Or another option is to apply for financial aid from the government or private institutions. Financial aid is money you can apply to receive and is designated specifically for post-secondary school expenses.
Now there are a number of financial aid options you can pursue if you want to supplement your college costs (both tuition and living expenses). We are going to be up front here to you single moms: college is a heavy burden in both time required and costs. It won’t be easy. And we won’t tell you that financial aid will pay for EVERYTHING. Unless you land an amazing scholarship from high school (and to be frank, few single moms — especially those who have had children young — have the grades from high school to even consider such a scholarship), you are going to have to mix and match finances from different sources to pay for college including a part time or full time job.
The main financial aid options are:
- Student Loans
- Other Specialty Programs (work study programs on campus, etc)
- Part Time / Full Time Work
Now in terms of “pure” financial aid: student loans, scholarships, and grants.
Of the financial aid options above, it’s likely that student loans and grants are your surest way to pay for most of your college. Realistically, most of the money you get from the government/private sources will be student loan money and some grants. Scholarships are possible (especially if you have good grades), but they do take quite a bit of work — to get a scholarship, you’ve got to be pretty active about applying for every scholarship you can get your hands on. It’s often a combination of a numbers game + some level of academic performance. It’s easier to qualify for specialty scholarships (gender scholarships, religious organization scholarships, racial scholarship — e.g. scholarships for Jewish people, scholarships for women, scholarships for single mothers, etc) than the broad scholarship categories.
Calculating the Cost of a College Education
Before applying for financial aid it is important to calculate the approximate amount school is going to cost you. It is important to factor more than just tuition and mandatory school fees into the cost of school. Other things you should factor into your school costs are books, a new computer if needed, notebooks and writing materials for note taking, transportation to and from school, and living costs. Schools help prospective students calculate educational costs by creating easy to read Tuition and Fees tables. This is an edited reproduction of the University of Northern Iowa’s Tuition and Fees table for 2011-2012.
College of Humanities, Arts and Sciences
College of Social and Behavioral Sciences
College of Education
Room and Board**
Total Direct Cost
Detailed Listing of Tuition & Fees
|Other Expenses We Recommend You Budget For|
|Books and Supplies||$1,054||$1,054|
|Total Other Expenses||$4,100||$4,400|
These tables can be found in either the Course Handbook or the website of most schools. To find the table above on Northern Iowa’s website all I had to do was type in “costs” into the search bar and it was the first link to pop up.
These tables are a good tool to use to calculate an approximate cost for your College education but it is important to know that certain fees such as tuition and student fees can change from year to year. You can also usually find the cost for just one class as well so you can adjust your calculations to include however many classes you plan to take. The table above includes approximately four courses.
These tables may not be completely accurate to your situation and should only be used as a starting point to calculating your personal school costs.
Types of Financial Aid
There are different types of financial aid available to students. There are student loans which are available through the government and private institutions. Loans need to be repaid but you are not competing against anyone else to receive one. There are also scholarships and student grants. None of these, as a general rule, need to be paid back but you do have to compete against other people to receive one
A student loan is similar to any other loan in many ways. Like other loans, you enter into an agreement with the lender, you pay interest on the loan, and it needs to be repaid. Unlike other loans, one of terms may be that the money can only be spent on education expenses, the interest may not start building right away, and there could be a grace period after you finish school before you have to start paying the loan back. A student loan, like other loans, requires a credit check and possibly a co-signer depending on your credit history.
Is a Student Loan Right For You?
The decision whether or not to take out a student loan should be thought over carefully. This is not free money you are getting. You are going to have to pay the loan back later. The question to ask yourself while researching student loans is: Can I find this money elsewhere? Am I eligible for scholarships or student grants? If you can find the money elsewhere or if you are eligible for scholarships or student grants then you are better off doing that. Essentially free money is better than money you are going to have to pay back with interest.
If you decide that a loan is right for you then plan carefully the number of courses you need take. You don’t want to borrow for more courses than you absolutely need. Also, research the different types of loans thoroughly in order to choose the one that is best for you.
Types of Student Loans
Student loans can be split into two groups, government student loans and private student loans. Government student loans can be further broken down into parent borrower loans and student borrower loans. Parent borrower loans are loans parents apply for and receive on behalf of their child, while student borrower loans are loans the student applies for and the school receives money on the student’s behalf.
Government Student Loans
The government sets aside money each year to help people pay for post-secondary education. The government lends this money out on a yearly basis; meaning when you apply for a government student loan that loan is only meant for one year of school. You can reapply the next year for another loan. Usually with a government student loan the money goes right to the school. Only after all the school fees have been paid is any money, which is left over, is given to you for other school expenses. Different loan types have different loan terms such as interest rate, when the interest starts accumulating, and when you have to start paying back the loan. Below is an example of a Parent Borrower loan and a Student Borrower Loan
Direct PLUS Loans – Parent Borrowers
This type of loan is for parents with dependent students
To Be Eligible:
- Must be the biological or adoptive parent of the student. A step-parent may be eligible in some cases
- The student must be a dependent
- A student is considered a dependent if:
- He/she is under the age of 24
- Has no dependents of their own, is not married, a veteran, a graduate, or in a professional degree, or is a ward of the court
- The student must be enrolled at least half time at a participating school
- The applying Parent cannot have a credit history that is considered adverse. (If the parent does not pass the credit check then it’s possible to still receive a loan if a relative or friend with good credit agrees to co-sign)
- The student and parents must be US citizens or eligible non-citizens
- They cannot be in default of any federal education loan or owe an “overpayment” on a federal education grant
- Must meet all other eligibility criteria for federal student aid programs
Forms that need to be filled out:
- Direct PLUS Loan Application
- Master Promissory Note (This says the borrower will repay the loan and all interest and fees. It also explains the terms and conditions of the loan)
The loan limit is the cost of tuition minus any other financial aid received.
There is a fixed interest rate of 7.9%. This gets charged on the outstanding balance from the day it is first given out to the day the loan is paid in full.
- There may be other fees involved in obtaining the loan
- Payments start 60 days after the last disbursement
For more information visit: http://studentaid.ed.gov/PORTALSWebApp/students/english/parentloans.jsp
Direct Stafford Loans
This is a low interest loan for students attending a college, a university, a community college, or a trade, career, or technical school
This money comes from the Department of Education. There are two types of Stafford Loans: Direct Subsidized Loans and Direct Unsubsidized loans
Direct Subsidized Loan
-This loan is for students with financial need. In order to apply you must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
Students are not charged in interest on the loan while in school at least part time, or during grace periods and deferments.
Direct Unsubsidized Loan
-This loan does not require students to prove they are in financial need.
Interest starts accumulating right from the start. However, you can pay the interest off at any time or let it accumulate. .
For more information visit: https://studentaid.ed.gov/PORTALSWebApp/students/english/studentloans.jsp
Private Student Loans
Private student loans come from banks or specialized companies. These loans vary depending on the bank or company you choose. Some have restrictions on what you spend the money on and some do not. I advise when looking for private student loans that you choose a bank or company that has a good reputation for giving out fair loans.
For more information visit: privatestudentloans.com
This website lists a number of institutions which offer private student loans.
How to Apply for a Student Loan?
How to apply for a student loan depends on which loan you are applying for. Government Student loans require you to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA can be found out at: http://www.fafsa.ed.gov
It is important that you completely and properly fill in the information. The FAFSA requires that you also submit documents. These include your social security card, driver’s license, W-2 forms, income tax returns, bank statements and so on. The complete list is given in the form. Make sure to keep the documents in the order they are listed in the FAFSA.
One thing that is taken into consideration when you apply for financial aid is your expected family contributions or EFC. EFC is simply measures how much money your family can contribute towards your education. In order for the government or private institutions to calculate your EFC they use the information off the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
For more information about the EFC go to http://ifap.ed.gov/sfahandbooks/attachments/0102Vol1Ch6EFC.pdf
Once you have submitted you FAFSA you can track it by going to:
and applying for a pin number. Once the FAFSA has been processed then you and each of the colleges you wrote down will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) Two things of note about this report; (a) it contains the EFC and (b) it has a Data Release Number which is important if you ever want to go back later to change information.
Applying for Private Student loans varies from institution to institution. Some require that you fill out the FAFSA. You are going to need some of the same documents as you would for a government student loan. However, the easiest way to find out how to apply and which documents you need is by either calling or visiting the nearest branch of your chosen institution.
Loan Repayment Assistance Programs
The government has set up a few different programs designed to help students repay their student loans. Different branches of the government have different programs. Not everyone is qualified for these programs because there are certain conditions that need to be met. The only way to find out if you qualify is through careful research.
Volunteer Work for Loan Forgiveness
One requirement for the Federal Loan Forgiveness Program is doing volunteer work with selected organizations. Three of those organizations are
- Need to serve for 12 months
- You will receive $ 7,400 in stipends in addition to a $ 4,725 reduction of your loan.
If you are interested or want information call 1-800-942-2677
2. Peace Corps
- Need to spend at least two years in service in a developing country.
- You will receive 15% off your loan for each year of service up to a maximum 70%
If you are interested or want information contact:
1111 20th St., NW
Washington, DC 20526
3. Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA)
- Need to do 1700 hours of service
- You will receive $ 4,725 reduction of your loan
If you are interested or want more information call 1-800-942-2677 or 1-202-606-5000
Loan Forgiveness Programs for Teachers
Under the National Defense of Education Act any full-time teacher who teaches in a school serving low-income families is entitled to compensation in the form of a reduction of their Perkins Loan. The compensation is as follows
- For your first two years you can receive a loan reduction of up to 15%/year
- For your third and fourth years you can receive a loan up to 20%/year
- For your fifth year you can receive up to 30%
For other Loan forgiveness programs for teachers visit: http://www.aft.org/yourwork/tools4teachers/fundingdatabase
Enter loan forgiveness into the box for funding type
Loan forgiveness programs for Medical Studies
The Department of Health and Human Services offers loan forgiveness to doctors and registered nurses who practice in areas lacking adequate medical care. This is done through the National Health Service Corps and the Nursing Education Loan Repayment Program. Also through the Department of Health, The National Institute of Health is willing to repay up to $ 35,000/year to citizens who conduct clinical research. For more information visit: http://www.lrp.nih.gov/index.aspx
The Department Agriculture has a loan assistance program for veterinarians who agree to work for three years in an area that has a shortage of veterinarians. The program pays $ 25, 000/year. For more information visit: http://www.nifa.usda.gov/nea/animals/in_focus/an_health_if_vmlrp.html
Other repayment programs for medical students can be found here: https://services.aamc.org/fed_loan_pub/index.cfm?fuseaction=public.welcome&CFID=1&CFTOKEN=0B0DFAB6-DC8B-AE49-386B756C9DA129D9
The military has Loan Forgiveness Programs as well.
There are also private loan forgiveness programs. An example of one is through Equal Justice Works. This program is specifically for lawyers who choose to work for the public interest or in a non-profit position. You can find more about this program here: http://www.equaljusticeworks.org/ed-debt/students/public-service-loan-forgiveness
Scholarships are another big category of financial aid, but a much less understood one than student loans, especially by people who do not have exceptional academic performance records.
What is a Scholarship?
A scholarship is an award of money which you apply for and compete against others to receive. Many scholarships have a set of qualifications which limits the number of people who can apply. Scholarships are available through the government, schools, or private institutions/organizations.
Scholarships can either be a one time or a renewable scholarship. A onetime scholarship is an award where you only receive money for one year of school. A renewable scholarship is an award where you receive the same sum of money for all 4 years of school.
Besides scholarships being one time or renewable they can also be considered partial or full. A partial scholarship is one that only covers part of your tuition where as a full scholarship covers all of your tuition.
Types of Scholarships
There are 5 different types of scholarships, the merit based, the need based, the student specific, the career specific, and the college specific.
Merit Based Scholarships
This type of scholarship is awarded based on academic, artistic, athletic, or some other talent or ability. Other things that are taken into consideration when awarding this type of scholarship are extracurricular activities, community service, and academic achievement.
There are a couple places you can find merit scholarships:
1. YOUR college financial aid office.
If you are currently attending a college, you should check your college financial aid office to see what sort of merit-based scholarships you can apply for. There will be a big list of current scholarships for that academic year.
2. Scholarships.com or other scholarship-search websites online.
Here is an example of a merit based scholarship that you might find online to apply for:
Coco-Cola Scholars Program for High School Seniors
This is a onetime scholarship program that awards money out to two sets of winners:
- 50 National Scholars given $20,000 each
- 200 Regional Scholars given $10,000 each
The competition for these awards happens in three stages:
- Stage One ends by December
- Stage Two the competitors have till mid-January to submit a second application which includes
2 letters of recommendation
This round is finalized in mid-February
- Stage Three the competitors go to Atlanta for interviews in mid-April
To Be Eligible:
- Must be a high school senior preparing to complete your High School Diploma
- Must be planning on attending an accredited secondary school in the US
- Must have a GPA of at least 3.0 by end of junior year
Must be a either US citizen, a national, a permanent resident, a temporary resident in the legalization process, a refugee, an asylee, a Cuban-Haitian entrant, or a humanitarian parolee
Visit this website for application instructions: https://www.coca-colascholars.org/page.aspx?pid=456
This is only ONE example of a merit-based scholarship.
Need Based Scholarships
This type of scholarship is awarded based off financial need and may require one to fill out a FAFSA. This calculates a student’s financial need by calculating the expected family contribution and the cost of the intended college.
Some colleges will automatically grant or put you in review for any need-based scholarship offered by that college institution automatically if you apply for the FAFSA.
Here is an example of a need based scholarship.
Educational Foundation for Women in Accounting (EFWA)/Women in Transition Scholarship
- This is a renewable award in the amount of $ 4,000 with a total value of $ 16,000 over four years.
- Deadline to Apply is April 15th
Must be Female
Must be an Incoming or Current student with Freshman status
Must be studying Accounting
Is based on financial need
For More Information Contact
Educational Foundation for Women in Accounting (EFWA)
PO Box 1925
Southeastern, PA 19399-1925
Phone (610) 407-9229
Fax (610) 644-3713
Student Specific Scholarships
For this type of scholarship you must initially qualify by a set of factors that are student specific. Gender, ethnicity, and medical history are all examples of student specific qualifiers. Minority scholarships are the most common type of student specific scholarships. A student specific scholarship is ultimately awarded on the basis of need and merit, assuming more than one student meets all the criteria. Here is an example of a student specific scholarship:
Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America/Belmer/Flora Prince Scholarship
This is a non-renewable reward in the amount of $ 1,000 and is available for Freshman through to Graduate students
Deadline to apply is February 15th
Must be female
Must be at least 21
Must be a member of a ELCA church
Must have experienced an interruption of 2 or more years in your education since you completed high school
A financial need analysis is not required
For more information contact:
Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
8765 West Higgins Road
Chicago, IL 60631-4189
Phone (800) 638-3522 ext. 2736
Fax (773) 380-2419
Career Specific Scholarships
This type of scholarship is awarded to students planning on pursuing a specific field of study or career. The scholarships of this type which award the most money are those that go to students pursuing a high needs career. For example: nursing or teaching.
To search for these, look to your local financial aid office at a college institution. You will also want to look at a scholarship-searching website like scholarships.com where these type of scholarships may be posted.
Here is an example of a career specific scholarship:
Women in Defense (WID), A National Security Organization/HORIZONS Scholarship
This is a renewable scholarship ranging in the amount of $ 500 – 10,000 and is available for Junior to Post-Graduate students. This scholarship is designed to help female students who are currently employed or want to be employed in defense and national security.
Deadline to Apply is July 1st
Minimum GPA of 3.5
Must be Female
Must be studying Military and Defense Studies
Must be a US citizen
Is dependent on financial need
For More Information Contact
Women In Defense (WID), A National Security Organization
2111 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 400
Arlington, VA 22201-3061
Phone (703) 247-2589
Fax (703) 522-1885
College Specific Scholarships
These scholarships are given out by the colleges and universities. They are awarded based on academic and personal achievement. To find college specific scholarships you have a few options: contact the school you are planning on attending and ask for scholarship information or visit the school’s website.
Quite often, you must apply for the FAFSA first, upon which your college may directly grant you or put you in review for a college specific scholarship. Note, sometimes you must directly apply for such a scholarship through a specific form — it’s best to check the specific process required.
The following scholarship was found on the University of Northern Iowa’s website.
The Alderman Scholars Program
This is a renewable award of $2,000 to $6,000
The deadline to apply is February 1st
To be Eligible
Must be majoring or planning on majoring in the College of Social or Behavioral Science
Must be attending the University of Northern Iowa
Must have experienced difficulties that you did not cause yourself/show evidence you have learned from your mistakes/show promise you will make good on the investment made in you.
Is dependent on financial need to a degree
For more information go to
College of Social and Behavioral Sciences 319, SAB
University of Northern Iowa
Cedar Falls, IA 50614
Phone (319) 273-7286
Fax (319) 273-2222
How to a Apply For a Scholarship
1. Do your research.
Find out what’s available. If you know where you want to go search through that institutions website and information package for which scholarships they offer. Here’s a website that can help get you started:
2. Look to see if you match the qualifications even loosely
When applying for scholarships you should check if there is a deadline to apply by. Some scholarships have them and some don’t. The deadlines vary. Miss the deadline you might miss your chance. Make sure all forms are there and are kept in the right order
3. Fill all forms out according to instructions.
It follows that you must complete the necessary paperwork steps. If you don’t fill out the forums correctly, your scholarship applications are likely to be delayed or rejected.
4. Put effort into your essays.
Many scholarships require the submission of an essay. Not all, of course, but some. If you are required to write an essay, make sure you put some serious effort into it. This is a chance to make a first impression on whoever is reviewing your scholarship application. We recommend you check your local library for books on how to write a stellar scholarship essay — there are a number of such books out there.
What is a Student Grant
A student grant is aid offered by the Federal government to support students. They are meant to allow students to study whatever they want for the betterment of the country. Actual payout goes through the school instead of directly to the student.
Types of Student Grants
There are two types of Student Grants. There are Direct Grants and Pass Through Grants.
In a Direct Grant students apply directly to the Federal government for a grant. Once the student’s application is accepted the money is passed directly to the student’s school. The most common type of direct grant is a Federal Pell Grant.
Federal Pell Grant
Maximum amount is $5,550 for 2011-2012. The amount varies year to year. This
This grant is for undergraduate students who do not have a Bachelor’s degree or Professional degree. Students enrolled in a teacher certification program are also eligible.
The money is given out on the basis of financial need, cost of school, students are full-time or part time and if they are attending school for the full year or not.
- The maximum amount given to students whose parents died because of military service
- It is only good for 18 semesters.
- The money is awarded through the school. The government gives money to the school and the school gives money to you.
- The school will tell you, in writing, the amount you have been awarded.
For more information go to http://studentaid.ed.gov/PORTALSWebApp/students/english/PellGrants.jsp
Two other grants that build off the Federal Pell Grant are the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant and the National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent Grant.
Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG)
This grant gives a student somewhere between $100 to 4,000 a year and is specifically for undergraduates exceptional financial difficulties. Those considered first will be recipients of the Pell Grant who expect the lowest financial contributions (EFC). The amount a student receives depends on their financial need, the status of school funding and school policies.
The National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent (SMART) Grant
Amount – $4,000 for each of 3rd and 4th year but when combined with the Pell Grant it cannot exceed total cost of tuition. It is available during 3rd, 4th, and 5th (for those programs with a 5th year), years of study
To be Eligible
- Must be at least half-time at school
- Must be eligible for Federal Pell Grant
- Must be majoring in physical, life, or computer sciences, mathematics, technology, engineering or a critical foreign language
- Must be a citizen or eligible non citizen
- Minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0
This Grant comes in addition to the Federal Pell Gran
For more information go to: http://studentaid.ed.gov/PORTALSWebApp/students/english/SmartGrants.jsp?tab=funding
Pass Through Grants
In a Pass Through Grants the State applies to the Federal government for a grant on the student’s behalf. The Federal Government then gives the money to the State which passes it along to the student.
In the US most student grants are direct grants.
Who Qualifies and How to Apply
There are four categories that are considered when the government decides whether a student is eligible for a student grant. Those categories are Educational level, Citizenship status, Academic Achievements, and Financial Status.
Are you at the appropriate educational level (high school grad, freshman, sophomore, etc) to receive a student grant?
2. Citizenship status
In order to receive a student grant you must be a US citizen or depending on the grant a listed eligible non-citizen.
Some grants take academic achievement into consideration.
4. Financial Status
The awarding of Student Grants is based on your financial need.
Applying for a student grant is easy. Simply fill out the FAFSA and wait until you receive the SAR. If you have been accepted for a student grant then the amount you are to receive will be written on the SAR. This amount is decided based off the information you write down on the FAFSA
The Difference between a Scholarship and a Student Grant?
Scholarships and Student Grants are very similar. In fact, a student grant closely resembles a needs based scholarship. However, there are differences between a scholarship and a student grant. Student grants are never paid directly to the student as opposed to scholarships where they are, at times, paid directly to the student. There is also no long essay to write when applying for a student grant. The final difference is the fact that student grants are always based on financial need. The same is not true of scholarships.
Final Word on Financial Aid for School
Going to college is an exciting and stressful time. It is exciting because of all the new experiences that college brings. However, college is expensive and finding ways to pay for that expense is stressful. There are many different forms of financial aid meant to reduce that stress. In fact, there is so much financial aid available that trying to figure it out is confusing. So, when you are searching through all the available financial aid take your time and make sure you understand well what you are signing up for. Do your research to make sure you understand the differences between what loans, scholarships, and grants, require of you before you make your choices. Ask questions and make the choice that is best for you