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The costs of colleges today are higher than the average family can pay; most families look for sources of financial aid to cover the costs of college. The typical costs of a four-year degree at a public school would be in the range of $85,000 to $90,000, and families must find help to pay for college degrees. The available resources include grants, scholarships, loans, and work-study programs. Further, there is some variation in these, such as loan forgiveness programs that wipe out student debt in exchange for work in a specific field, occupation, specialty, or location. For example, many states use these programs to get teachers to work in high-need areas and nurses to fill under-served regions.

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Cost of Higher Education Increasing Private and Public Schools

The costs of college depend greatly on whether the school is a public and government supported school or a private institution. Public Schools have state and federal governmental subsidies. Because state colleges and universities have extensive financial support from the state’s government and taxpayers, they charge in-state rates that reflect the support of its citizens. The out-of-state rates are higher than in-state rates, but on average, out-of-state rates are lower than private school rates. The average annual tuition costs across the US for private college or university tuition is about $38,000 while the average out-of-state tuition at public four-year schools is approximately $27,000. The in-state differential is greater at about $25,000 less per year than the average private tuition rate.

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Private schools charge all students the same tuition rate and may feature small classes and unique curriculum offerings. Many private schools are prestigious institutions that have long traditions of excellence and national or regional leadership. Some of the best online colleges and campus schools offer highly competitive admissions, remarkable retention percentages, high graduation rates, and outstanding graduate success rates. Private school grads may get higher salaries and generous amounts of student financial assistance, however, many elite school graduates have large amounts of educational debt.

Out-of-State Educational Agreements

Some states have created regional agreements, sometimes called common education market agreements, to relieve the high cost for out-of-state students. The common education markets permit students to attend schools outside of their state at in-state rates. These arrangements may be limited in overall numbers of participants and only work with out-of-state public schools. The goal of the common education market programs is to expand the range of majors available to all students. Major selections are essential to student success. In a given situation, students may be unable to select a major because it is not available or because too many students choose the major and leave no available slots.

Create Your Education Financial Road Map

The cost of colleges vs universities and the structure of financial aid resources require an effective game plan to get a favorable outcome. The sources of financial aid include federal scholarships and grants, state grant and scholarship programs in the state of residence and the state of attendance, and any public or private grants or scholarships that apply by residence, race, religion, community, or other types of personal or family association. Many students use modern technology to search for scholarships, and some states provide a single application that automatically submits applications for all forms of aid for which the student is eligible.

Students should assess their qualifications including gender, race, age, location, military status, intended major, and intended profession, if any. They should review family connections to the military, business associations, and fraternal and social organizations. Many scholarships and grants use need as a basis for selection, and students must assess their needs and assets.

The FAFSA is an excellent start and all the personal assessments can point to areas to search for scholarships. Students should be mindful of the in-state tuition advantages and that they may apply to schools in neighboring states. Grants and scholarships do not require repayment and student should pursue as many of these programs as may be possible.


Students attending college in the US have a wide range of opportunities for scholarships to assist them in paying for a college education. Scholarships are different than grants because, in a traditional sense, scholarships use academic achievement to make selections. The name scholarship suggests it is focused on academic merit, however they can also take need into consideration. Grants are traditionally based on other things, such as student need or equal distribution of a benefit. Grants offer assistance to broad groups of people.

  • General Scholarships
    General scholarships are funds for student financial assistance that are not tied to a specific purpose or designated category. Many schools refer to general scholarships as merit scholarships because they use many merit-based selection factors. General scholarships can use some minimum level of GPA as well as extra-curricular activities and community involvement. General scholarships differ from academic scholarships based solely on GPA, ACT scores, and SAT scores. General scholarships also differ from degree-specific awards in that students can apply for general scholarships before they establish a major field of study. These scholarships do recognize need as a factor and often prioritize students with demonstrated need.

  • Degree Specific Scholarships
    Some scholarships support students looking to earn a specific degree. Examples of degree specific scholarships include nursing, teaching, and business education. Many private scholarships are degree-specific. Students should search for scholarships sponsored by states and professional associations that may seek to raise the number of professionals, educators, and practitioners in the field. For example, many accounting and auditing associations offer scholarships which support students that choose to major in these fields. Degree-specific scholarships can be needs based, gender-based, or minority focused. They could also be purely academic and seek to reward students with high academic achievements, such as GPAs of 3.5 and higher, and high scores on the SAT or ACT.

  • Military Service
    Military service based financial aid has several forms. Veterans assistance programs provide tuition assistance in the form of the GI Bill and Post 9/11 GI Bill. These programs provide up to 356 months of tuition assistance. At the top tier of service, the VA tuition assistance pays full tuition at public schools or up to $21,970 at private schools. Students can get housing allowances and book stipends. One special feature, called the Yellow Ribbon Program allows the private school and the VA to share the excess charges after applying the original VA tuition assistance. In the Yellow Ribbon Program, participating schools agree to match up to half of the funding need, and the VA pays a matching amount. The goal is to reduce the veteran’s out-of-pocket tuition expense to zero.

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    The Reserve Officers Training Corp is a source of scholarship for many students. They can participate in military training along with college coursework and graduate with a bachelor’s degree and a commission in the US Army, Air Force, or Marines. ROTC provides scholarship aid and a monthly stipend.

    Military service is a basis for financial aid for the active service member, veteran, and family members. For example, the federal government created the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant for military scholarships. The Iraq-Afghanistan Service Grant awards money to children of those who died in Iraq or Afghanistan after 9/11.

  • Women (Gender-based) Financial Aid
    Women have targeted grants, scholarships, and loan funds that seek to promote opportunities for women in specific fields, as well as towards higher education more generally. Women professional associations are a leading source of women-focused scholarships, mentoring, and other types of support. There are professional women’s scholarships in accounting, business, and engineering.

    Some programs support older women. For example, many women-focused scholarships have gap funding. These grants and scholarships focus on women that have interrupted their education progression - the education gap - for reasons that are common for women scholars. Gap scholarships address interruptions such as care-giving for young children and aging parents, childbirth, or other sacrifices routinely made by women for their families. These financial aid sources attempt to encourage and support women that have faced and overcome structural barriers to educational achievement.

  • Minority Students
    Minority students come from groups that have been underrepresented at many levels of educational attainment and professional participation. Many schools and programs use the phrase ‘diverse students’ or the word ‘diversity’ to indicate a focus on a broader group consisting of women, minorities, and students with LGBTQ sexual orientation. Minority group students should look for programs that focus on diversity as possible sources of aid.

    Minority scholarships include tribal benefits and other efforts aimed at First Nation peoples including Alaska native tribes. In many cases, minority scholarships also include women of color as a specific group. Whether the purpose of a program is to correct traditional under-representation or combat the effects of long-enduring barriers to participation, students should examine the criteria for eligibility.

  • Undergraduate Scholarships
    Undergraduate scholarships aim to assist graduating high school seniors, recent high school graduates, and first through fifth-year college students. Many scholarships include first-year students and graduating high school seniors while some undergraduate scholarships focus on first-year students exclusively. There are groups of scholarships that focus on students that live in specific areas, such as a county or group of counties, and some focus on particular high schools. Students may have to reach GPA minimums and ACT or SAT score ranges to qualify. Some degree-specific scholarships may also be undergraduate scholarships. These may restrict eligibility to third, fourth, and fifth-year students or those that have declared a major in an eligible field of study.

  • Graduate Scholarships
    Advanced degree students include those in master’s degree, doctoral degree, post-doctoral, and graduate level certification programs. Graduate scholarships can be degree-specific, based on gender, ethnicity, or military status. They can include work-study type programs or graduate assistant positions, and they can be from federal, state, school, or private sources. Often the sources of graduate scholarships are occupational or professional groups that seek to expand the supply of professionals, educators, and under-represented groups. Graduate scholarships serve the additional function of providing a core of educators that can fill faculty positions and help train and mentor future faculty members.

  • K12 Scholarships
    The cost of college tuition has risen steadily for a few decades. Many families will not have enough money set aside to provide their child adequate resources to cover all the expenses, such as tuition, books, other fees, and on-campus living expenses. However, if you can amass some good, quality scholarships to cover the shortfall, you can attend the college of their dreams.

  • Student Loan Programs
    The federal government, many state governments, and the military use loan-forgiveness scholarships. Students that pursue degrees in professions and geographic areas with unmet need can find loan forgiveness as an excellent way to finance their education. Loan forgiveness programs use loans that cover tuition and required fees as an incentive for students that will agree to accept assignments after graduation in specific professions, specialties, and/or locations. For example, a state government may offer loan forgiveness to attract teachers that can teach STEM subjects in urban high schools. In this way, a state can fill an unmet need. Similar examples exist for nurses and skilled medical professions.

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Grants are an important source of financial aid for every student. Unlike loans, students do not have to repay grants. Grants provide immediate help to enable students to attend college. By reducing the amount they might borrow, grants help in the long term to reduce student debt. Grants come from governments, foundations, companies, associations, and wealthy individuals.

The federal government offers national student grant programs such as the Pell Grant, TEACH Grants, and the Federal Supplemental Opportunity Grants. They also provide a special veteran grant program. States also offer basic opportunity grants. While they may be subject to the amount of money that a state authorizes per year, most of these programs have open standards that nearly every student can meet. Schools also offer grants to incoming and currently enrolled students.

  • Based on Need
    Grants can cover essential costs like tuition and fees. Some grants have no limitations on spending and students can also use them for living expenses. Grants have been traditionally used by federal and state governments to promote something that is in the public interest. The federal government offers some well-known grant programs to help students, and nearly every state has a similar program to enable students to attend higher education institutions.
  • Apply for Grants
    Students can apply for federal grants through the FAFSA. Most states also use the FAFSA to determine financial need. Students must consult with the State office of student financial aid to get specific requirements. Many states have an application form that works with the FAFSA that requires student action. In addition to the FAFSA, some programs ask for specific information such as proof of residency, residency in a particular part of a state, or other types of eligible financial aid. Federal and state procedures may reduce grant funds by amounts received from other sources such as scholarships.
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Financial Aid


The cost of a college education today is high, and it is beyond the ability of most students and their families to pay without help. The average tuition for in-state students in the US is about $10,500, and the typical costs of room and board are about $12,000. The typical in-state student must pay about $24,000 per year to get a bachelor’s degree at a public school. For the vast majority of students and their families, the solution to this problem is financial aid.

Financial aid consists of grants, scholarships, student loans, loan forgiveness, and work-study programs. These categories of financial assistance can be public, private, or a combination of public/private sources. Students must apply by filing the required applications and paperwork. Because nearly every school uses it, students should complete the FAFSA form as soon as possible. When applying to schools, students should fill out the school’s application and request for financial aid. Most colleges and universities use a single application for the student to receive consideration for a large number of their school-based scholarships and grants.

Financial Aid Guide

Student Loans

What is a Student Loan?

Student loans are sums of money from one party - a lender- to a student or student’s family as borrowers. A student loan is a contract wherein the lender provides funds against an enforceable obligation to repay the money plus interest. The typical lenders are federal agencies, state agencies, and private sources of money including banks and lending companies. The key element is that, from all types of lenders, the borrower must repay at some later time.

Federal and state student loans are needs-based funds that help fill the gap between school costs, expenses, and the student’s assets. The assets include family contributions, grants, and scholarships. Federal and state student loans make education accessible for many students and their families. However, loans should be the least preferred way to pay for college educations because repayment obligations put students in debt. Repaying the loans will likely take many years and amount to a major expense during the delicate beginning of the student’s career after graduation.

Commercial loans are not needs-based they consider the borrower’s ability to repay the loans as the main point of decision. Commercial loans may be more accessible than state or federal loans for families with above-average incomes and commercial loans do not have the limits on borrowing found in federal and state loan programs. Commercial student loans can have strict repayment terms, and some can begin before the student completes graduation. Commercial student loans have only commercial limitations on interest and penalties.

How to Apply for a Loan?

Federal student loans may only go to students that enroll at accredited institutions that participate in the federal student loan program. Students must complete school applications for financial assistance in addition to the FAFSA. Most school forms include the FAFSA and require students to file it before the annual deadline.

Students can apply for federal loans and most state loans through the FAFSA. Most states use the FAFSA as a basis for making determinations of need after establishing the amount of federal grant, scholarship, and loan aid is available. The federal student loan program has overall limits and limitations based on need. The participating college or university must use the FAFSA filing to determine the allocation of loan funds to the student. Students must fill out the school financial aid forms which may ask slightly different questions that the federal form.

Student Loans Guide

Work Study Programs

The Federal Work-Study program provides part-time jobs to graduate and undergraduate students with demonstrated need. Both full-time and part-time students can participate in the work-study program consistent with their academic workload. Students that qualify for work-study programs can contribute to their educational costs and gain valuable work experience. Students can only access the program through a participating vocational school, college, or university.

Work Study Application Process

Students must apply through their school; the school must be a participating institution in the federal work-study program. The federal program uses a needs test for eligibility and students must file information to demonstrate a need for employment. The school determines the amount of the award which would translate into dollars for each hour of employment up to a maximum number of hours. The school adjusts the hours allowed by the student’s schedule.

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Where Would You Work?

Students can work on-campus or off-campus depending on the school and the student’s choice of assignments. Typical off-campus assignments include private for-profit employers, local community-based organizations, and non-profit organizations. Undergraduate students typically get hourly pay while graduate students sometimes get salaried positions. The hourly pay must exceed the minimum wage, and the typical pay for work-study students is above the minimum wage. Students get paid at least once per month and they usually have a choice of getting funds directly or sent to their school to pay costs and required fees.

The federal work-study program policy encourages participating schools to assign students to work in fields or types of work that have some relevance to the student’s field of study. This policy may be more evident for graduate school when students can take professional level positions. It is an ideal situation for the program to place students in work that is consistent with their studies or career paths where possible.

How to Apply for The FAFSA

The FAFSA application deadline is usually June 30. FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It is the basic form for getting financial aid in the US. FAFSA is a federal requirement, and states and private sources of financial aid also use the form to determine need. Students and their families can fill out the FAFSA online. The form consists of the following parts.

  • Part One
    These questions provide basic identification, citizenship status, some criminal history for drug violations, and selective service registration. This part asks about the drug violations and the parent’s level of education. Students must name the degree they seek and whether they seek to join the federal work-study program.
  • Part Two
    These questions ask for income information and documents that include tax returns for the student, student’s spouse, cash balance, value of investments, and other similar financial information. This section determines the income and assets.
  • Part Three
    Questions determine the degree of dependence and whether the form requires parent’s information.
  • Part Four
    The parent’s income and asset information if needed.
  • Part Five
    Includes the Student Household Information concerning whether there are dislocated workers, previous student loans, household members, and the number of members that are or will be in college.
  • Part Six
    The schools that will receive the FAFSA form.
  • Part Seven

While some grants will require separate information such as, recommendation letters, transcripts, etc.; many scholarships will use the FAFSA as their application, especially one that is focused on need as a selection factor.

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