Article updated on 1/13/2019
With college tuition rising much faster than the rate of inflation, more college-bound students depend on financial aid to help pay for college. According to Finaid.org, the average individual student debt for 2016 was $37,2172, up 76% from a decade earlier. With total student loan debt eclipsing $1.5 Trillion, finding financial aid will continue to be the only way many college students will be able to afford a college degree.
Grants are a form of financial aid that does not have to paid back.
The Pell Grant was established in 1972 and has been a main source of educational financial aid for low-income families. In 2017-18, 32% of undergraduates were awarded Pell Grants averaging $4,010 . The financial aid award pays for tuition, and then what’s leftover can be used for books or can even be used to help offset living expenses.
Students who qualify for the Pell Grant will also qualify for the federal Academic Competitiveness Grant (AC) and the National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent Grant (SMART). The SMART grant is awarded to college juniors and seniors who plan to study math, computer science, engineering, or other sciences and awards are $4000.
FSEOG – You must meet Pell eligibility requirements and demonstrate exceptional financial need. Financial aid award of between $100 and $4,000 depending on when you apply as well as other factors.
Students can find details on state grants on their state’s department of education website. Available grants range from $300-$7,500 per year and typical awards have been averaging $2500 in the past .
Financial Aid for Minorities
- United Negro College Fund: The great source for valuable information on a wide array of financial aid. Examples of financial aid include UNCF/Merck Science Initiative, Gates Millennium Scholars, as well as many other scholarships and fellowships.
- Ron Brown Scholar Program: Available to high school seniors. Eligibility requirements include academic excellence, community service and an economic need.
- Hispanic Scholarship Fund: An extensive resource of financial aid offered through various corporations and charitable organizations that the Hispanic Scholarship Fund has formed relationships with.
- Hispanic Heritage Foundation: is the largest non-profit organization in Central Florida dedicated to providing scholarships to Hispanic students pursuing a college or university degree. A good source of information on a wide variety of financial aid options.
- American Indian College Fund: Supports students financially through a number of different programs. A good resource for information on student aid.
- Association on American-Indian Affairs: Provides financial support for students who demonstrate academic excellence. A student essay and letters of recommendation are required for acceptance into the program.
Minority and disadvantaged women will want to look to American Association of University Women as a good place to start for information on financial aid programs.
- Jeanette Rankin Foundation: Serves as a unique source of financial support for women over 35 years of age who are enrolled in a vocational school, undergraduate degree program or associate degree program. They must also meet low income eligibility requirements.
- American Association of University Women: Provides a wide range of different financial options available. A great source to gain access to many opportunities.
- CIA Undergraduate Scholar Program: Open to African-Americans, Asians, Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, Hispanics, and Handicapped persons in their freshman year of college. Eligibility requirements include a minimum GPA, full-time status, summer work at the agency and employment at the agency for 1.5 times the length of the time spent completing a university degree program.
- Gates Millennium Scholarship: Available to African-Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics, and Asian/Pacific Islanders. Must have a 3.3 GPA on 4.0 scale and meet other basic requirements to be eligible.
- Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant: Open to undergraduate students who are in the lowest income bracket. Pell Grant recipients are shown preference.
- Academic Competitiveness Grant: Available to first and second year undergraduate students. Must be eligible to receive the Pell Grant and meet certain academic levels of achievement.
- Sallie Mae Fund: Sponsors a variety of funding programs for students who are faced with economic hardship.
- First Generation Scholarship – Sallie Mae, a student loan company, and Coca Cola both have grants for first generation college students.
There are scholarships for just about anything you can imagine but are usually awarded for academic, athletic, or artistic talent. Fastweb.com is the best place to start as this is the largest and most up to date scholarship database on the web.
Alternative Sources of Financial Aid
Volunteers may defer repayment of several types of student loans, i.e., Stafford (formerly known as guaranteed student loans), Perkins, direct and consolidation loans as well as some commercial loans. Because deferment rules are complicated and subject to change, it is best to talk to a Peace Corps recruiter about how this benefit applies to your situation.
AmeriCorps & Teach for America Education Award
Most corps members are eligible to receive an education award of at least $5,300-$6,100 after successfully completing each year of teaching. You can use the education award toward:
- Repayment of qualified student loans (a loan in your name that was provided through a federal or state agency)
- Payment of current or future educational expenses at a Title IV institution of higher education (includes most colleges and universities)
Additionally, several colleges and universities across the country match the AmeriCorps education award for their undergraduate or graduate students. See the full list.
Loan forbearance provides Americorps members the opportunity to postpone regular monthly loan payments during their two-year commitment. You can use loan forbearance to save for a major expense (car, grad school, etc.), pay off loans more efficiently, or put money toward other responsibilities.
AmeriCorps only guarantees forbearance for qualified loans – those provided through state or federal agencies. However, several private lenders have determined that AmeriCorps membership is a valid reason for loan forbearance. Ultimately, for private loans, it’s at the lender’s discretion whether to grant forbearance.
Public Service Student Loan Forgiveness Program
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program is a federal program that will forgive federal student loans for borrowers who are currently employed full-time (more than 30 hours per week) in an eligible federal, state or local public service job or 501(c)(3) non-profit job and who make 120 eligible on-time payments.
According to a recent article in Forbes, 99% of students who apply for loan forgiveness are denied for reasons ranging from not having eligible loans or not making 120 qualified loan payments.
Loans that are in forbearance still continue to accrue interest. AmeriCorps will pay 100% of the interest that accrues on your qualified student loans (those provided through a federal or state agency) while you’re in the corps. Interest payments will not be deducted from your AmeriCorps education financial aid award.
There is obviously no way to repay the debt we all owe to our Men and Women who have served our Country or are protecting our borders and coastlines however, the GI Bill is one small benefit for those that choose to serve. Depending on the length of your active duty, tuition and fees of $22,500 per year, a monthly housing allowance, money to buy books and supplies stipend of $1000.