College Scholarships & Financial Aid Explained

The total yearly cost of a top public university costs roughly $33,000 and the total yearly cost of a top private university costs roughly $60,000. Before you reach for the aspirin or give up on higher learning, read on to find out how you can get scholarships and financial aid.

Where can I get money for college?

  1. The University Itself: upon acceptance, you will receive aid based on a combination of need and merit. Yes, you apply for these automatically when you fill out an application for financial aid. Yes, every college sets their own budgets, and so every college will offer you a different package. No, you will not know what that package will be exactly until you get a big envelope saying that you're admitted. Yes, these will be the largest single source (and for many students the only source) of scholarship or financial aid that you will receive. We've seen students receive $30,000 a year to even $55,000 a year from a university financial aid package.
  2. Outside Scholarships: you can win these scholarships based on merit. These scholarships are privately run by different organizations, churches, companies, high schools, community groups, cultural groups, etc. Yes, you have to apply individually for each scholarship through or local means. Yes, these applications will include essays. Yes, most scholarships run from $1,000-$5,000, and very few will grant you $10,000 or more. Yes, these scholarships are often based on special interest activities or low income or ethnic background. Yes, these scholarships are very difficult to win because it is "free" money. Yes, you can use this money at whichever college you decide to attend. Yes, (and most surprising to students and parents of all) if you win an outside scholarship, the university will subtract this amount from the university scholarship that you would have received.

How can I maximize the money that I get for college?

As you can see, the largest source and most probable source of scholarship will come directly from the college that you are accepted to. Thus, with our students in dealing with finances, we spend the most time choosing the colleges correctly, and writing essays in the application that may lead us to winning a sizable award from the university itself.Outside merit scholarships are worth pursuing because they are extremely prestigious and highly valuable for a student's sense of independence, but these outside scholarships are often unpredictable, rare, and do not change your total financial cost of going to college.However, keep in mind that outside merit scholarships are the most valuable to students who do not qualify for any financial aid from the university itself, because in that case any amount of outside scholarship won will directly reduce the cost of a college education.

What does a University financial aid package include?

Not all money given in a financial aid package is equal. You will most likely receive a combination of these depending on how much you need and the maximum that you qualify for under each category:

  • Scholarships/Grants: the holy grail. "Free money" that you do not have to repay. If you are extremely lucky, your entire financial aid package would consist entirely of scholarships and grants. However, most of the time, your financial aid package will also include some of the others below.
  • Work Study: the next best thing. You will be guaranteed a job on campus paid indirectly by the federal government. If you are smart, you can use it for research or work experience in your future career, so that you are getting paid for what you would be doing as a student anyway.
  • Student Loans (subsidized): a low interest (2.5%-4%) loan directly to the student. Subsidized means the federal government will pay your interest while you are in college, meaning that payments start six months AFTER YOU LEAVE COLLEGE and that the amount you had initially borrowed did not increase. The best loan for college that you can hope for.
  • Student Loand (unsubsidized): a low interest (2.5%-4%) loan directly to the student. Unsubsidized means that interest accumulates while you are in college. Payments start six months AFTER YOU LEAVE COLLEGE, and the principal will have increased during the time that you were in school.
  • Parent Loans (unsubsidized): a regular loan (8% interest) given to parents. Repayment and interest begin IN THE FIRST YEAR OF COLLEGE. Avoid if possible, but for many families, it is the only way to afford the college that the student wants to attend.
  • Standard Bank Loans: if you still somehow come out short even with all of the options above, you can get an outside loan from a bank but at higher rates than above. I DO NOT RECOMMEND that you go this route, but for a few special cases, this may make sense.

Sample Financial Aid Breakdown

How do I know what financial aid package to accept?

At the end of the day, do treat the cost of college as a business decision. Is the financial package offered to you by the college worth it for you financially? In other words, education is an investment. Do you value a college education as a short-term or a long-term investment? In either case, is the total cost worth it for you in that time frame?

With our students, we choose colleges that will meet their financial concerns and can also do some projections about the kind of aid that they will receive. We help them fill out the FAFSA and the CSS financial aid applications to make sure they represent their financial situation in a way that clarifies to the college what their needs are. If they come early enough in the process, we can help plan out their finances to make sure they receive the most favorable financial aid conditions. When our students receive their acceptance letters and individual financial aid packages, we help them weigh the pros and cons of each "deal", to make sure that they and their parents are making the most educated decision within their needs and expectations.