Online Guide to Student Scholarships and Loans

Students who plan on attending college have a lot to prepare for. Not only do they need to academically perform at a level that makes them attractive to prospective colleges and universities, but they must also have the finances to fund their education. When a student and his or her family are not able to pay for college on their own, financial assistance is often necessary. This is commonly achieved through student loans and/or scholarships. Because both can be confusing to navigate, it is important that the prospective college student and his or her family understand what assistance is available to help them manage college expenses. They must also understand what the requirements are for the different programs and what the deadlines are if applicable. By understanding what the potential financial options are, students are more likely to lower their concerns about funding their college tuition, make the correct choices, and get the money that they require.

Getting There!
Loans are a common way for students to get the money that is necessary in order to put themselves through college. While a student may apply for a private student loan, such as one from a financial institution, a state agency or a bank, he or she will want to first seek a federal student loan. These are federal government loans that students can apply for, for free. Unlike private loans, federal loans will have certain benefits such as interest rates that are fixed. In addition, repayment won’t begin until after the student has completed college. If the student changes his or her enrollment to less than part-time, repayment will also begin. To begin the process for a federal loan, students will need to complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

The federal student loans are issued by the U.S. Department of Education. The loan programs are the Direct Loan and the Federal Perkins Loan Program. The largest of the two is the Direct Loan Program, under which there are four loans. These loans are called the Direct PLUS Loans, the Consolidation Loans, the Direct Subsidized Loans, and the Direct Unsubsidized Loans. The lender for the loans under this program is the U.S. Department of Education. With the Federal Perkins Loan Program, the school is the lender. Regardless of the type of loan, a student must keep in mind that it is still just a loan and that he or she is not being given the money. Students will need to repay the loan and interest will accrue.

Grants are also an option for students. Unlike loans, grants do not require repayment. New York’s TAP, or Tuition Assistance Program, is an example of a grant. A federal option is the Federal Pell Grant. This is a program that is based on the student’s level of need and is available for undergraduate students that are low-income only. Eligible students can receive their grant reward for a maximum of 12 semesters. Pell Grants are not affected by other forms of student aid. To apply for a Pell Grant, the student will need to complete a FAFSA.

Scholarships
Scholarships are often what people think of in terms of paying for college. They are similar to grants in that they do not need to be paid back. When searching for a scholarship, students will find that there are literally thousands to choose from and potentially apply for. They come from various sources, such as non-profit organizations, private corporations, the military, religious organizations, or just about any group or association. In order to receive a scholarship, the student must fill out an application before the cut-off date. The student must meet the scholarship’s requirements and will need to continue to do so even after the scholarship has been granted. Often this means maintaining a certain GPA or taking a certain number of units per semester. Depending on the specific scholarship there may be certain requirements or restrictions. The student may need to be a specific gender, ethnicity, or the student may need to major in a specific field.

Before applying for scholarships, students will need to search for ones that they may qualify for. To do this, they will want to talk with a college financial aid representative or their high school counselor. The library and the Internet are both great sources of finding scholarships. Students should begin filling out applications for scholarships in their junior year in high school to ensure that they do not miss the deadlines for completion. If a student has received a grant or a loan, he or she should discuss this with a counselor at the financial aid office as it may affect the scholarship.

By Scott Shrum