A college education is a great investment, one that is likely to pay for itself many times over throughout the course of a career.
But, the cost of tuition—even at an affordable state school—can leave some of us wondering how we will pay for it.
There’s good news, though.
Few students pay tuition up-front and out-of-pocket. A variety of financial aid programs exist to help students and their families foot the bill. One study estimated that as many as 85% of students receive some form of financial aid.
Types of Financial Aid
Financial aid comes in three basic categories: grants, scholarships, and loans.
Grants are usually based on financial need. The great thing about grants is that you usually don’t need to repay them.
Grants come from federal and state governments. Universities and nonprofits sometimes offer grants, too.
You are automatically considered for federal grants, such as the Pell Grant, when you file the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA). Other grant programs have their own application processes. Many of those, however, will also require you to file a FAFSA.
Scholarships are financial aid awards often based on talent, academics, service, or leadership. However, need-based scholarships also exist.
Like grants, you don’t have to repay scholarships. It’s “free” money.
We’ve all heard of scholarships for athletes, but the truth is scholarship programs exist to benefit all sorts of students in all sorts of academic pursuits.
Scholarships come from a variety of sources, including universities, foundations, companies, and more.
Financial aid loans are low-interest loans for students or parents and are often awarded based on financial need. Loans must be repaid.
To qualify for loans from the federal government, you must file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
Private loans are available from private lenders. You should exhaust all federal grant and loan opportunities, however, before borrowing from a private lender.
Depending on your eligibility, additional financial aid possibilities include Veteran Affairs programs such as the G.I. Bill, fee remission programs (which Ball State offers to employees and their families), and Federal Work-Study.
As with all other forms of federal aid, Work-Study requires you to file the FAFSA.
What Qualifies You for Financial Aid?
What qualifies you for financial aid—in other words, your eligibility—varies by the type of financial aid.
Scholarship programs, for example, can set their own qualifications. They are usually based on merit.
Federal grants and federal loans, on the other hand, are based entirely on financial need. “Need” is defined as the cost of attendance—tuition and fees—minus your “expected family contribution” (EFC).
The federal government calculates your EFC using the information you supply in your FAFSA.
What is the Maximum Income for Federal Aid?
There is no maximum income above which families no longer qualify for federal grants, loans, and work-study assistance. Income is an important factor, but it isn’t the only factor in the complex formula that determines aid eligibility.
When Can You Apply for FAFSA?
The FAFSA can be filed beginning October 1, but must be received by the federal processor on or before April 15 for students to receive priority consideration for all grants and loans.
What GPA Do You Need for FAFSA?
For incoming freshman, the eligibility criteria for federal aid do not address GPA, at least not directly. If you can get into college, and you meet all other criteria, you are eligible for aid.
Of course, getting into college may, by itself, require you to have a certain GPA. So, keep those grades up!
For students already in college, you must make what the federal government calls “Satisfactory Academic Progress,” or SAP. SAP is loosely defined. You must “make good enough grades” and be on track to successfully complete your degree in a “period that’s acceptable to your school.”
Each school has a “Satisfactory Academic Progress Policy” for financial aid. Check your school’s website.
Do You Pay Back Financial Aid?
You do not pay back grants and scholarships.
But you must pay back loans.
Make Your College Education More Affordable
At Ball State, we strive to make a quality education accessible to everyone through competitive costs and generous financial aid. See what options are available for you.