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 (S-Stafford) 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.
  • Work study.  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.

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Tags: pell grant stafford loan work study

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