Student finance options and how to make the most of them

Deciding to undertake post-secondary education is an exciting prospect, whether you’re planning to attend following your high school graduation or if you’re looking to attend later in life. But before you apply to a school and commit yourself to become a student, it is essential to remember that further education is not free. Therefore you need to consider financing options and how to pay the fees and support yourself while studying.

Applying for financial aid will take some time as there is a lot of paperwork to be filled in, most notably the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA) required for all federal aid and by many schools and private providers. The form needs to be comprehensive as it determines the level of investment you or your family will be required to make, which has long-lasting implications beyond your time at college; however, it is worth it when there is so much at stake. Do keep an eye on the deadline for submitting your FASFA as some states have earlier deadlines than the June 30th deadline that is the standard end of reward periods.

All schools offer a variety of financial aid, ranging from grants to PLUS loans. And it is not just regular colleges and universities that provide financial assistance; online-based schools, such as Marymount University, also have a range of loans available. Contacting the admissions advisors for any schools you are considering is an excellent way to get a handle on what aid will suit you best.

Those students assessed as requiring the most significant help will be offered a range of grants and loans. Grants are typically need-based and can range from partial cover of the cost of tuition to complete coverage of tuition fees. Be sure to submit your FAFSA early so that you can provide additional information should circumstances change in the lead-up to starting school.

Other grants are available by applying for state aid if you have lived in the same state for five years. The process is different in each state, so be sure to check your local agency. This type of aid can also come in the form of scholarships, which are similar to grants in that they do not need to be paid back but are often merit-based rather than needs-based.

Other types of scholarships can help you on your way. A popular one is athletic scholarships that are offered to students who are gifted athletically and show that they can keep up with schoolwork as well. For those who are not so good out on the sports field, there are plenty of academic scholarships that can be applied for, and many others too. Be sure to look closely at everything on offer.

Keep in mind though if you are great at lacrosse or win your state science fair and would like to go to an Ivy League, merit-based scholarships are not offered at these schools (though these activities will definitely help with your admission application). The lack of scholarships is balanced by a higher level of need-based financial aid offered.

Any shortfall left by grants and scholarships that need to be covered, there are various loans available and come under two umbrellas, federal and private loan companies.

Federal loans are either subsidized and unsubsidized, do not require a credit check and have a low-interest rate. How much you are allowed to borrow is set by your school so that you only borrow the amount you need to cover your costs. With both types of loans, repayments wait until after graduation, or the student drops below half-time attendance. However, with a subsidized loan, you are not liable for the interest while studying. With an unsubsidized loan, you are responsible for the interest while studying – you can leave off paying until after college. Still, the incurred interest will be added to the principle of the loan.

Private company loans are another option. They do offer a higher rate of interest; less flexible repayment options, and you are liable for repayment straight away, so be sure that this is a debt you are able to service while still a student and beyond.

Should a loan not be an attractive option to make up any shortfall in funding, as glib as it sounds, there is always the hard work and savings option. It is harder now to work all summer to earn enough to cover your fees due to inflation not keeping up with the price of tertiary education, but you can still put some money by. There is also a federal program called Work-Study that allows students to secure on-campus jobs that are flexible to their schedule (think Rory Gilmore swiping other student’s cards in the dining hall during her first year at Stamford).

If the prospect of committing to full-time study doesn’t appeal to you or fit in with your lifestyle, then part-time study is usually an option too. Although it will mean it takes longer to graduate, it can help students balance earning a living with studying. Sometimes, keeping a roof over your head and food on the table is the greater priority. Online study, especially for non-professional courses, can also provide flexibility to manage work and study as well.

Another attractive option, especially for mature prospective students looking to take a professional post-grad program, is to have your employer pay for your tuition. Similar to how companies that use a largely unskilled workforce will pay to train promising staff members for management positions, many large corporations recognize the benefits of paying to upskill their staff. There will be conditions attached to any offer of company-paid tuition, such as being expected to stay with the company for a certain length of time or paying back the money should you not complete your studies. If the set conditions are reasonable for you to fulfill, approaching your company about furthering your education makes terrific financial sense for advancing yourself and your career.

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