Grants, Scholarships, Loans, Work Study, Savings…
What are my options?
There are multiple ways to cover your college costs. Let’s first define each one and then we’ll provide some resources to help you get started.
A grant is a monetary gift often based on financial need and does not need to be repaid.
Scholarships are gifts that don’t have to be repaid and are designed to help students pay for their degree or certificate. They can be a one-time gift or are renewable depending on the scholarship.
A loan is money borrowed from the federal government or a private source like a bank or financial institution and must be paid back with interest.
Work study is part-time employment for students attending institutions of higher education who need the earnings to help meet their college costs. Work Study is typically awarded through the Financial Aid Office and provides jobs on the college’s campus.
Students can begin saving as early as they want for college. There are options available that match college savings or provide other tax incentives for families to save.
Since grants are free money and don’t have to be repaid, it is important you maximize your eligibility. The first step is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as early as possible. The FAFSA becomes available each year on October 1. While some grants don’t require your FAFSA to be done by a certain time, many have a priority date – this is a date where early submission may mean stronger consideration of your FAFSA for grant awards. The State of Missouri has a priority date of February 1. If you are considering multiple schools, make sure each school is listed on your FAFSA to ensure you don’t miss any priority dates.
It may seem daunting to begin the scholarship application process – there are so many things for which to apply. Start small and begin looking at local applications, then take a look at statewide options, then expand to national scholarships. Many scholarships will allow a student to receive any funds left over after their school bill is paid. In other words, you can get paid to go to school!
Loans will have to be repaid once you graduate, so it is always best to borrow as little as possible. There are two kinds of loans: federal and private. Completing the FAFSA is the first step to receive federal loans and these loans typically have a lower interest rate and more flexible repayment terms than private loans. If you have to borrow, take out your federal loans first and always remember to only borrow what you need. Since loans accrue interest, every dollar borrowed will cost you once repayment comes.
The Federal Work Study Program provides part-time jobs for undergraduate and graduate students. Based on financial need (calculated by submitting the FAFSA), your school’s funding, and when you apply, Work Study wages can be used to pay any educational costs such as tuition and fees, living expenses, food, books, and supplies, etc.
When you submit the FAFSA, question #31 asks if you’re interested in Work Study: make sure to click yes if you want to take advantage of this program.
It is never too early to start saving for college. If possible, ask for cash for birthdays and holidays and stash it in your college account along with wages from a part-time job. If you’re starting the college savings process early, take a look at Missouri’s 529 Program to receive some tax benefits while still preparing for the future.
Other Helpful Resources
A collection of articles and resources for understanding all of the costs associated with college.
Use this tool to lookup schools you’re interested in to see their average cost and the average debt a student graduates with.
Different calculators available for you to use including savings, loans, college costs, and net price.
Learn more about federal student aid including all grants, loans, and work study.