College education is perhaps the most essential learning phase that molds high school graduates into successful adults. Millions of high schoolers across the globe strive for a good college education in order to give wings to their dreams and achieve their goals.
But college education comes with a steep price tag that can deter students from pursuing higher education. Considering the cost of college fees, the importance of higher education and the dilemma of students coming from families with humble financial backgrounds, the federal government, state government, universities, private organizations, banks and lending companies have come up with financial aids to help students with college expenses.
There are five types of financial aids that can make college education affordable for students from all economic and financial backgrounds: Grants, Scholarships, Fellowships, Loans, and Work-Study Programs. It is to be noted that these aids are provided just to ease the financial burden on students and their families, and they may or may not cover the entire college expense.
- Grant: It is a form of gift aid, i.e., the student doesn’t have to repay the aid at any point of time. Grants are generally provided by the federal government, state government, colleges, private institutions, etc., based on the student’s financial circumstances. In order to avail federal grants, one needs to apply for Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). It is advisable to apply for FAFSA well ahead of the deadline as federal grants are often provided on first-come first-served basis.
By applying for FAFSA, a student becomes eligible for college grants at certain universities too, depending upon his/her financial need. High schoolers also need to be on the lookout for different types of grants that are offered by private organizations, colleges, etc.
- Scholarship: It is a gift aid similar to grants but it is offered to students on merit basis. Scholarships are awarded not just on the basis of academic merit but also on the basis of athletic achievements, volunteer work, interest in special subjects, etc. Students are advised to extensively research about various scholarships awarded by different colleges as one might find that they are eligible for more scholarships than they thought they were. Each scholarship has its own applications and deadlines, so it is important to be aware of the dates and deadlines well in advance.
- Fellowship: There is a very fine line between scholarship and fellowship. While both are gift aids offered on merit basis, a fellowship is offered to a select few students for specific research programs for a short or long term period. There are different fellowships for different areas of studies and they are considered highly prestigious, with many students vying to qualify. Academic merit and personal interest are two major criteria for awarding a fellowship. But unlike scholarships, most fellowships require service commitment or internship for a year or more once the student graduates.
- Loan: With the increasing number of college aspirants, grants, scholarships and fellowships are not enough to provide financial aid to all. Students, who aren’t awarded a grant or scholarship based on financial status and merit respectively, can apply for loans to help them with college expenses. Unlike gift aids, student loans or education loans need to be repaid with interest once the student gets his or her degree.
Mostly, students opt for federal loans as they offer financial assistance at lower interest rates compared to loans from private banks and other lenders. It is to be noted that gift aids are provided only for the college tuition fees, so many students still rely on loans to pay for textbooks, residential and food expense.
- Federal Work-Study Program: Besides grants, the federal government also provides Work-Study Program where a student is given an opportunity to manage his or her college expenses through paid part-time jobs.
Let’s face it. College education is an expensive affair. As a student, it is your duty to make the best use of these financial aids if you’re serious about completing your college education.