All types of scholarships and financial aid for students are highly competitive and require excellent academic records. The term “scholarships” and “financial aid” are used interchangeably. Technically, however, they are two separate awards. A scholarship is a financial award based on merit, which may include outstanding academic performance, special athletic or artistic talents, or leadership and volunteer service. Financial aid is a “need-based” grant based on the student’s financial need. Financial aid is determined using family income, assets, and similar factors.
Financial Planning for Higher Education
It is important to start your financial planning at least 12 months before you intend to study.
Education in the United States may appear expensive, but you have probably already realized that it pays for itself in a short amount of time. This chapter looks closely looks at the costs involved in an education, and ways you can pay for expenses.
It is important to understand and plan the financing of your education before you submit your applications to colleges; however, along with your acceptance letter, universities and colleges provide an estimate of the costs for your first year of college.
If you are an international student, then you will need to prove you can pay for your studies before receiving a student visa. If you are married and/or have children, then you will also need to prove you have sufficient funds to support both yourself and your family. Universities often require students to complete a financial statement, specifying how they intend to cover their expenses as part of the application process.
Planning ahead will give you time to research independent scholarships and identify university programs that have funding available. If possible, try to make personal contact with professors in your department at U.S. universities; professors play an important role in identifying grant and funding recipients in their departments.
Calculating Your Expenses
The main types of costs involved in studying in the United States are tuition/fees and living costs. These vary widely. All U.S. colleges publish information on the costs for their institution and area. Consider the following chapter in calculating your costs: » Tuition, Fees & Cost
Assessing Personal Funds
Consult your parents and other family sponsors to find out how much money they can commit each year to your education. Try to raise as much funds as you can from family sources, because most scholarship awards, if available, cover only part of the total educational and living costs and may not be available to first-year international students.
Identifying Sources of Financial Assistance
You will discover that financial aid is very rare at state or public colleges, and at colleges that offer professional courses such as engineering, business administration, and healthcare. More financial aid may be available from private liberal arts colleges with the Liberal Arts and Science departments.
As you do your research, make a table listing the colleges you would like to attend. Write down annual costs (as outlined above), then enter the average financial aid award and the number of awards made by each of the colleges. This chart can quickly allow you to see where your best chances lie. The information on the chart will help organize your choices based on affordability and will eliminate choices that cost too much.
Only a handful of well-funded colleges in the United States are able to meet the financial need of all the students they admit (admission to these schools is usually very competitive). Financial need is the difference between what you and your family can afford to contribute and the estimated cost of attending the college. The former is calculated on the basis of detailed information about your parents’ financial circumstances, including supporting evidence such as bank statements, employers’ letters, and other official documents and statements. Other universities, which make more limited awards on the basis of your financial need, will also ask to see such evidence.
Financial assistance from colleges is awarded at the beginning of the academic year. It is rarely available for students entering mid-year in January or at other times. More aid is available to freshman students than transferring students from other institutions. Students who have already proven themselves at a college may find it easier to obtain financial assistance from that college than new students.
Loans: Government subsidized loans are often easier to obtain than grants or scholarships. Your educational adviser may have information on loan programs for which you may be eligible. You must usually have a U.S. citizen co-signer to act as a guarantor for any loans from U.S. loan programs, and in most cases you must already be enrolled in a U.S. university before you apply.
Before taking a loan, be certain that you can repay it. Also be aware of how a loan will affect your plans for graduate or other further study and for returning home.
Employment: By working 10 to 15 hours a week, you could earn enough to pay for incidentals such as books, clothing, and personal expenses. Your campus job cannot pay your major expenses, such as tuition, room, and board. This income also cannot be used as a source of income for any official financial statements. Campus jobs may include working at the university’s cafeteria, bookstore, library, or health club, or within the university’s administrative offices.
Reducing Educational Costs
When planning your finances, consider these ways to reduce your costs:
Best Buys: Look for the colleges that offer you the highest quality education at the lowest cost.
Accelerated Programs: Completing a four-year bachelor’s degree in three years saves thousands of dollars. Students can accelerate their programs by taking courses at a nearby community college if tuition is lower and credits are transferable; attending classes during the summer if they are available; and taking one additional course each semester.
Tuition Waivers: Based on your first-year grades, some colleges award partial tuition waivers. A superior academic record could save you thousands of dollars.
Living Expenses: Becoming a resident assistant in a dormitory could save thousands of dollars in living costs. Working in the dining hall offers a modest salary plus “all you can eat” meals. Living off campus with a relative or friend saves money if suitable accommodation is available and public transit systems are efficient.
Two-year and Community Colleges: Many students save thousands of dollars in tuition by attending community colleges for their first two years, and then transferring to four-year institutions to complete their degree.
Almost every school listed in our directory provides information about financial aid!
It is best to consult the schools & colleges listed in the appropriate category of the School Directory
for the latest information about financial aid. Just click on “Complimentary Information” to get the latest updates regarding finacial aid from each school.