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There are many options to help you pay for school. In fact, a majority of the respondents to a recent Student Health 101 survey said they have financial help to pay for tuition and other expenses.

Scholarships

  • Usually awarded based on merit.
  • Don’t need to be paid back, sometimes based on certain conditions.

For full-time, undergraduate students, scholarships can be offered through local communities, or from national resources. However, options for part-time or graduate students may be less prevalent. Matthew Vallejo, vice president of financial aid and services here at Ashford University, suggests that these students get creative about where to search for funding.

He encourages students to investigate their fields of study for possible scholarship options. Natalie K., a graduate student at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, receives a stipend for work related to her Ph.D. “I’m paid as a research assistant through my lab,” she explains.

If you’re working while attending school, Vallejo also recommends exploring company benefits. “Your employers may offer tuition assistance for those working full time,” he says.

Jamie Dickenson, a certified educational planner, helps students figure out how to pay for college. She emphasizes the importance of utilizing your school’s financial aid services and applying for aid each year. If you didn’t get any funding last year, try again. There may be new scholarship opportunities available.

Grants

  • Usually awarded based on financial need.
  • Don’t need to be paid back.

There are many sources for grants, from state and federal governments to non-profit organizations. Federal grants, such as the Pell program, usually have a maximum dollar amount that can be awarded over a person’s lifetime and are limited to undergraduate study only.

Vallejo points out that part-time jobs can also help with expenses that some students forget to consider. “Part-time employment can help with the indirect costs of education,” he explains.

Loans

There are many different kinds of loans as well as lenders.

  • All loans have to be paid back.
  • Some are based on financial need.

The federal government runs a program called Federal Student Aid, for example, and offers both subsidized and unsubsidized loans. These are available to undergraduate students who can demonstrate financial need.

Unsubsidized government loans are available to anyone, regardless of necessity. This is true of bank loans or private loans, too. Private loans are based in part on your credit score and also on your debt-to-income ratio, which compares your current income to the amount of money you owe. Vallejo encourages students to be mindful of additional fees when taking out private loans, especially if your debt-to-income ratio is high. You’ll likely have to start paying interest on these loans right away.

Applications
Loan applications can be complicated. For a bank loan, you might need a cosigner, someone who’ll be responsible for paying back your loan if you can’t. For government loans, you may need detailed information from your parents or guardian if you’re not financially independent.

If you’re offered a loan, you don’t need to take all of the money available. If you don’t need it, don’t borrow it! The “cost of attendance” information published on your school Web site can help you plan for how much you’ll need.

Managing Loans
Once you’re in school, keep on top of your loan:

  • Keep records of money you receive.
  • Know when you’ll be expected to start making payments.
  • Find out what your minimum payments will be.
  • Understand when interest will start to accrue and whether the rate is fixed, meaning it never changes, or variable.

Some loans have grace periods, meaning time after you’ve borrowed when you don’t need to make payments. Inquire about factors that may influence when you need to start repaying—such as certain kinds of work or community service. Some programs even forgive some portion of loan debt, meaning some of it won’t be owed.

Consider starting your repayment before you graduate, if you can. Vincent H., a student here at Ashford University, shares, “Start paying early, and make sure your payments are on time once you graduate.”

If you have loans for living expenses, it may be tempting to use some for items that aren’t related to school.

There are plenty of free Web sites and apps for managing financial commitments. You can set up payment reminders and goals, and see everything in a spiffy graphic form, too.

Avoid this temptation

Can’t I Spend Just a Little Bit?

If you receive money directly from a lender, it might be tempting to spend a bit of your big check on a nice dinner with your family or new technology. But remember: You’ll be paying it all back later, with interest.

Consider making payments throughout your time as a student, even if it’s not required. Try to put a little extra toward the loan when you can.

It can be hard to keep track of how much you’re spending. Try organizing your money into separate accounts and making a budget for the school year. While a loan may seem like a lot of money at first, figuring out how to make it last for the whole year might put things into perspective.

Take Action:

  • Research scholarships based on your field of study.
  • Contact a financial advisor here at Ashford or in your community.
  • Make sure you understand the terms of all financial aid, especially loans.
  • Gather all your loan documents in one place.
  • Use free sites or apps to stay on top of your financial commitments.

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