Grants

While most people are more familiar with scholarships, college grants can be just as useful at relieving the financial burden that comes along with getting a college education. Grants are similar to scholarships in that they are “free money” given by an organization or college to help students pay for school. However, there are some differences. Grants are usually provided by governmental agencies or non-profit organizations. The main advantage of grants is they are more flexible in how they can be used, although there are still some obligations. For example, most scholarships are awarded just for tuition or room and board, but grants can be applied to a variety of educational expenses, including books.

There are numerous types of grants. For example, the federal government offers grant programs, such as the Federal Pell Grant, to undergraduate students who can demonstrate a financial need. The federal government also offers grants for students who plan on teaching a high-need subject, such as mathematics, in a low-income school. There are also grants for single mothers, military veterans, and students who are studying a specific subject, such as education.

A student may receive his or her grant money in three different ways: by check or direct deposit, credited to a student’s account at his or her college, or a combination of the two. All government grant money goes to the college, which then passes it on to the student.

Although grants can often be used for things not covered by scholarships, they still come with strings attached. Many grants are awarded on the stipulation that the recipient will pursue a rigorous course of study or obtain a degree in an in-demand field. In some cases, grant money is exchanged for professional service following graduation. In addition, be prepared to put in some legwork for the grant, as applying for them can be a long and involved process. What each grant requires for its application can vary. Some will require essays, others require letters of recommendation from teachers or community members, and those based on need, such as Pell grants, will likely need to see statements regarding the applicant’s family income.

Grant programs can help put a dent in college tuition, no matter what you plan to study, so whether you’re pursuing a master’s degree or just starting out as an undergraduate student, take the time to explore how grants can help you make college more affordable.

Scholarships

Paying for college can be an intimidating prospect for recent college graduates, particularly when the topic of scholarships arises. What kind of scholarships can an undergraduate get? What do you need to do to apply? Can you get any just for being a woman, German, or a middle child? The fact is that there is a variety of scholarships available, and chances are you will qualify for at least a few.

Scholarship Basics

Scholarships are similar to grants in that money can be awarded to a student for academic achievement or success, such as being an honor student, winning essay contests, or participating in a certain number of hours in community service projects. Unlike loans, scholarships do not have to be repaid. Typically, scholarships are given by institutions, organizations, companies, or on behalf of prestigious people based on the student’s academic merit as determined by the standards for each scholarship. The eligibility requirements for scholarships vary by degree level (such as scholarships for graduate students), subject type (such as LPN scholarships), and other factors, but in most cases, students will follow the same general process: They will usually complete an application, provide financial and background information, and submit proof of certain academic achievement.

Scholarship Types

For every degree level, there is at least one type of scholarship available. The majority of scholarships are awarded to undergraduates, but master’s, Ph.D., and even high school senior scholarships are available as well. In addition, scholarships vary by subject type, including accounting, nursing, and trade school. Another type, specialty scholarships, are given to students that qualify based on unique academic situations, such as being in the military or military spouse, for minority groups, or for specific ethnic groups. Browse through our curated lists of scholarships. This may give you a good chance at finding as many options as possible to pay for college without ending up buried in debt.

Loans

Many students have only a limited amount of money set aside for college, and even if they qualify for scholarships and grants, the amount they receive from those resources still may not cover the entire accumulated cost of classes, books, technology fees, and college housing. Thankfully, those aren’t the only options available to students. Those who need additional financial aid for college can apply for student loans, which are sums of money that students can borrow from the government or private financial institutions.

Getting a Loan

As with some scholarships and grants, getting a loan can be as simple as filling out paperwork. All loans, including federal loans and private loans, start with a loan application. After students provide personal information, loan companies will investigate their backgrounds and financial standings. Then, they will determine whether or not the student is a high or low financial risk, after which they will offer a loan to low-risk clients. Each lender will have different guidelines for determining to whom they should lend their money and how much money they should offer.

If you’re having trouble being approved for a loan, consider getting a cosigner. A cosigner can take joint responsibility for your loan, which can help you get approved. There are also options for parents to take out loans on behalf of their students, which is another helpful option for students who are struggling with loan approval.

Repaying a Loan

Unlike scholarships and grants, loans consist of borrowed money, which eventually needs to be paid back to the lender. This means that loans typically accumulate interest over time, although the rate will vary with each loan. Some loans, like Stafford loans, may be offered to students on a subsidized basis, which means that the student will not be charged interest while he or she is attending school. Other loans are unsubsidized and accumulate interest regardless of the student’s academic status.

It is best to try and repay the loan as quickly as possible to reduce paying too much in interest. Some government loans have a grace period, which is a time frame after graduation during which students do not need to repay their loans. However, if you are in a position where you can pay during the grace period, it’s better to get a head start and begin the repayment process. Although it can be difficult for entry-level professionals, repaying more than the monthly amount required is a good way to pay off your loan quickly without accumulating too much interest.

Additionally, students who have borrowed from the federal government may be eligible to have their loans forgiven, canceled, or discharged. Typically, this applies to teachers, public service officials, and major, life-changing events. To learn more, visit the Federal Student Aid website.

Student Loan Benefits

Taking out a loan can be a difficult decision. You may be wary of accumulating debt so early in your life or taking out money now when you don’t know what your financial situation will be later. Keep in mind, however, that student loans do have some benefits. They can help you pay for college, which will give you the time to focus on your studies in lieu of finding a full-time job to pay for your tuition. College loans also help you build credit, which can assist you later on in life, such as when you are looking to buy a car or a home.

Before taking out a loan, consider the cost of your education and the resources that are available to you. If you think that you can handle the financial responsibility of a loan, apply for one — but make sure you have a plan in place first. That way, when it does come time to start making payments, you won’t be caught by surprise.