Millions of high school seniors take out tens of thousands of dollars in student loans to pay the upcoming costs of college. Many college freshmen will indeed rely upon federal or private student loans to cover some or all eligible college costs. With interest rates fairly low, student loans can make a lot of sense, but they are by no means the only option.
Before taking out student loans, I suggest you learn about grants, scholarships, and student jobs.
These are based on financial need and you are not required to pay them back, although you may have to provide a partial refund if you drop out of a semester. There are thousands of grants available across the country from the federal and state governments, schools, businesses and non-profit or private organizations. Each grant has its own requirements and applications deadline, so it makes sense to research these at least a year before starting college. Federal grants include:
- Federal Pell Grants: Available to undergraduates who have not year earned a bachelor’s degree (with some exceptions for postgraduate teaching certificate programs). The annual amount is up to $5,920 a year, with a lifetime cap of 12 semesters.
- Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant: Available to undergraduates who have not year earned a bachelor’s degree. Recipients of Federal Pell Grants receive priority. The annual award is as high as $4,000.
- Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant: Geared toward students planning to become school teachers who will serve a set period in a high-need field or low-income school. Grants up to $3,724/year.
- Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant: Children of parents who died in military service in Iraq or Afghanistan after 9/11. The annual amount is $5,414.
To review state and private grants, visit college scholarships and search on the keyword “grant.”
Scholarships are another form of gift aid but are usually based on merit rather than need. Many different types of organizations offer scholarships that are awarded for academic achievement and/or special talent.
The Internet has many resources for identifying scholarship programs. A good place to start is the U.S. Department of Labor Scholarship Finder, which lists over 8,000 awards. Other good sources of scholarship information are high school and college counselors, certain federal government agencies (Department of Health and Human Services’ Indian Health Service, National Institutes of Health, and National Health Service Corps), state agencies and many others.
Each scholarship has its own requirements, application forms, and deadlines.
Many people work while in school to help defray the costs of higher education. A popular program is Federal Work-Study (FWS), which provides part-time jobs on- and off-campus. FWS encourages work related to your major and to community service. It is available to full- or part-time students, both undergraduate and postgraduate, with financial need. FSW is administered by the financial aid office of participating schools.
FSW jobs pay at least the minimum wage, but you can earn more based upon your level of financial need, your school’s funding level and the timing of when you apply. You might be paid by the hour or by salary, at least once a month. Your pay goes directly to you unless you request it go to your college. The number of hours you can work is capped by your total FWS award.
Of course, you are free to take a job unaffiliated with your college if you like. The concern is that your work might interfere with your studies. Many students choose to work during the summer break to save up money for the school year.
Student Loan Resources
Americans have racked up more than $1.4 trillion in student loans, the vast majority from the federal government. In other words, many students choose to finance at least part of their education with student loans. On July 1, 2017, the interest rate on federal undergraduate loans jumped to 4.45 percent from last year’s 3.76 percent. Graduate loan rates also went up, from 5.31 to 6.0 percent.
How do you learn about student loans and then stay on top of the latest events? Begin by bookmarking the Federal Student Aid website from the U.S. Department of Education and The Student Loan Report, an industry news website. These are your go-to resource for all matters pertaining to federal student loans, and it has a good explanation of private loans as well.
You’ll find there a complete description of the different repayment plans available, including the income-based ones. These plans can reduce your monthly repayment amount. There are also explanations of forbearance, forgiveness and cancellation options. The website has a link to the FAFSA website, where you can fill out the application form to start your journey toward financial aid.
U.S. News & World Report has an excellent website for staying up to date about the latest student-loan news and trends, covering both federal and private loans. It’s also has a well-respected school rating system and provides financial information about hundreds of colleges and universities. For more information on student loan options check out The 411 on Student Loans.
The most important takeaway is that you should start researching your options while you’re still in high school – time goes by quicker than you think. You do not want to have to change your plans because you missed a deadline.
As a math teacher by day and personal blogger by night, Jacob is constantly looking at and analyzing numbers. He shares some of his best tips and tricks @DollarDiligence.