How to Pay for College: Financial Aid and Scholarships for Students With LD
Senior year of high school—time to relax, coast, wait for college, right? Wrong! You may have been accepted to your college of choice, but the work doesn’t end with an acceptance letter and a trip to the mall for new sheets and jeans. How will you finance your college education? Where and when do you begin the hunt for financial aid?
Planning ahead is the key to assuring that your education is funded. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and panic about deadlines or to find yourself scrambling at the last minute to fill out forms you previously had never even heard of.
Federal student aid is widely available and can serve as the foundation of your means to cover the cost of college. Your first stop should be filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This application allows you to determine your eligibility for Pell Grants, federal student loans, and other student aid. This application can be filled out online.
Pell provides grants, which do not have to be paid back, to students who can demonstrate financial need. Students can qualify for up to a maximum of $5,550 for the 2012–13 school year. Need is determined based on the resources which a (dependent) student’s family can contribute to the cost of attending college. An independent student’s aid amount is based on their own financial resources.
Federal student loans are low-interest loans that students can use to pay for college if Pell or other forms of aid are not enough to cover the cost of tuition and attendance. There are three basic types of loan programs:
- Subsidized student loans: For those that can demonstrate financial need, interest does not capitalize on a subsidized student loan while a student is attending school. These loans are subject to certain annual and overall borrowing limits.
- Unsubsidized student loans: These loans can be utilized in addition to Pell (or for students who are eligible for Pell and subsidized student loans, in addition to subsidized loans). Just like subsidized loans, these loans are subject to certain annual and overall borrowing limits.
- Parent Plus Loans: For students that need extra amounts of student aid to attend higher cost institutions, parents can borrow on behalf of their student through this program.
Of course, the federal government is not the only source of financial aid. Be sure to consult your state’s higher education agency for state financial aid programs and deadlines. In addition, there are many sources of scholarships available—be sure to research different kinds of scholarships that may apply to your particular strengths, interests, disabilities and other characteristics or qualities.
Scholarship and state financial aid programs have different deadlines. During the winter of your senior year, apply for as many scholarships as you feel comfortable taking on. Some applications simply require filling out a form; others require a lengthy essay process or more. Only you know how much or little work you can handle on top of your current school work and schedule, and how important this free money is toward the financing of your college career.
After selecting the college of your choice, review your college’s financial aid offers and try to work with the school to better suit your needs. It is important to maximize grant aid before you borrow to pay for the cost of college. It is also important to utilize federal student loan programs before you borrow private student loans. Federal student loan programs often provide better terms and conditions and offer more protections for borrowers who might fall behind on their loan payments after school. Overall, think before you borrow with these tips from CollegeBoard.org.