Financial Aid 101: Affording Your College Education
Of all the things you’ll do during your college search, trying to master the financial aid process may be the one with the most intimidating reputation. Just Google “college financial aid,” and you’re likely to be overwhelmed by long, in-depth articles that leave your head spinning. To help you figure out what it all means, we’ve pulled together a simple snapshot. Let’s start with the basics:
What is financial aid and how do you qualify?
- Financial aid is money to help fund your education that you can qualify for by filling out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).
- Important Note: Schools cannot evaluate you for most forms of financial aid without the FAFSA, so be sure to fill it out, even if you don’t think you’ll qualify. The 2024-2025 FAFSA opened in December, but colleges won’t receive the information until mid-March.
What types of aid are available?
There are a variety of aid sources including scholarships, grants and loans. Here’s how they differ:
Scholarships & Grants
Money that is awarded to you in your financial aid package. Scholarships are usually based on your academic achievements and grants tend to be financially based (another reason to fill out the FAFSA!).
Funds that you borrow and must repay. There are two types of loans:
- Federal: Sponsored by the federal government and an assigned servicer (more at Studentaid.gov). These loans offer income-based repayment options, loan forgiveness and no penalty for early payment.
- Private: You’ll find these loans through private companies & banks and determine repayment terms upon application. Private loans may offer interest rate deductions for current customers, good grades and completing your education. They may also charge for early payment, so you’ll want to do your research prior to application.
Ok, maybe this isn’t so hard after all! Now that you have an understanding of the different types of aid and the resources you should consider, here are a few other helpful tips:
Utilize schools’ Net Price Calculators (NPC)
The NPC located on school’s websites (you can find ours here) will help provide an estimate on what you’ll be expected to pay.
Scholarships, Scholarships, Scholarships!
- Keep an eye out for outside or untraditional scholarships: They can come from anywhere – national scholarship contests, community organizations, clubs, churches, even your local McDonald’s! True story, our Assistant Director of Student Financial Services received a scholarship from McDonald’s for her textbooks!
- Don’t underestimate the power of micro scholarships! Ursinus participates in the RaiseMe micro scholarship program as well as SAGE tuition rewards. Credit totals for each program must be reported to the College prior to receiving notification of your admission decision. Ursinus is proud to offer an additional $1,000 to all SAGE and RaiseMe students who enroll at the college by May 1. This award is stackable on top of your merit and need based aid, and is renewable annually, for up to 4 years. The additional $1,000 SAGE Participant Award and RaiseMe Participant Award are not stackable with Tuition Remission or Tuition Exchange.
- We’re not done yet…Be sure to check out other sites like fastweb.com and myscholly.com to search for even more scholarships that could be a match. And before you finish, be sure to visit www.ursinus.edu/opportunity to see if one of the nearly 20 different merit and specialty scholarships we offer could be a fit for you.
Communication is key
This is a team effort that won’t work unless you, your parents/support system and the school work together. Students and their support team must communicate throughout the process so everyone learns together and can keep the best options on the table. Since email tends to be the primary means of communication for most Student Financial Service teams, make sure to check it regularly.
Sticker shock is real!
The price tag on schools (especially private schools) can easily frighten people off. But before crossing a school off the list due to sticker price, be sure to check into their aid opportunities and policies. At Ursinus, 99% of our students receive financial aid, and the average aid award for the 2022-2023 academic year was $39,659. When you factor that into the price, an Ursinus education becomes comparable to large, public in-state institutions.