Did you know there are lots of hidden secrets to financial aid – how to find it, get it, keep it, and use it wisely? There’s no one-size-fits-all for financial aid either. Believe it or not, all financial aid isn’t the same. Knowing the difference helps you manage your tuition budget.

Remember financial aid awards are often based on requirements, so make sure you know what they are. For instance, if you are required to take a full load of classes, understand that dropping below that minimum required credit load could jeopardize your funding.

Always remember that you can ask for a formal financial aid review at your school. If you can explain your hardship, the school might be able to offer more.

What kinds of financial aid exist and what’s the difference?

1. Loans – Students and their families can apply for various federal and private loans to pay for their education. Look carefully into each as there are important differences in repaying the loans, limits, and loan terms (like interest rates and when they start accruing).

2. Scholarships – Scholarships can come from the school itself, another educational institution, or private and public organizations (from a local garden or business club to national ones like Minority Nurse Magazine, The Society of Women Engineers, or Lions Clubs International, for example). They don’t have to be repaid. Scholarships can seem like a real process – often requiring applications, essays, recommendations, and other documents. But it’s worth the effort to seek out scholarships that will be a good match for you. Start looking early!

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3. Grants – Like a scholarship, a grant is given to you and doesn’t have to be repaid. Grants are often based on merit or merit plus a financial need and can come as part of your financial aid package. This is what we all like to call “free money.” But, like scholarships, some grants are based on strict requirements. You might have to apply, so look around and start the process early.

4. Work Study – Work study jobs are often given by a school’s financial aid office as part of the student’s aid package. Students can generally pick from a range of jobs and will work in exchange for money from the institution.

5. Federal Aid Programs – The government offers several types of aid – from loans to grants. You can apply for various aid packages using the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

6. State Aid Programs – Many states have their own aid programs. Check the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators’ website to find potential funding sources in your state.

Stay focused and on track when looking for financial aid, as it’s not always obvious and schools don’t always wave their free money in front of you! Check and double check all the deadlines, so you don’t miss out on anything because you were supposed to apply two months ago.

Good luck!

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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