By Ryan Laspina
Senior Specialist, Red Flags and External Reviews at APUS
The primary source of funding for college expenses for most students is through the Federal Student Aid Title IV program. The Pell Grant, Federal Work Study (FWS), and subsidized and unsubsidized Direct Loans all fall under FSA. While these options are great (especially the Pell Grant which does not need to be paid back), there are other, lesser-known options available for college students who need financial assistance. In fact, according to Amy Weinstein (2015), your “home state may offer more than you realize” when it comes to educational financial aid.
As with many scholarships and grants, the only way you are going to find them is by doing plenty of research. Internet searches are the best way to accomplish this. You should try to search for financial aid options for your home state, as many states really try to assist their college students by offering certain programs. For example, West Virginia offers a Promise Scholarship to any student who meets (and maintains) certain academic criteria and is planning on attending a school located in the state. There are financial aid options for online universities, hybrid universities, and on-campus universities. While many scholarships and grants are going to be need-based, there are some that are also merit-based. This provides a wide range of options for the diverse population of students who want to attend college.
Even if you are not using FSA, you have to fill out a FAFSA to get state-based aid. Remember, the FAFSA provides the government (state and/or federal) with all of your financial aid information. This is the only way they can determine your actual need-based aid. While it is a tedious chore to fill out a FAFSA each year, it is absolutely essential to getting as much funding as you qualify for.
You should also be aware of the deadlines for the financial aid programs you are interested in. Many states offer great options, but these options have pretty early deadlines. If you wish to use state-based financial aid, you should start researching at least a year before you are ready to actually start college classes. Many scholarships and grants have deadlines well before the award would be set to pay out. Lastly, state-based financial aid may require you to do more than just apply. You may be asked to write a personal essay about why you deserve the award. They may also ask you to verify other information, such as proving you are of Native American decent if you are applying for a scholarship that specifically asks for that criterion.
So many students fail to realize that there are awesome financial aid opportunities utside of the FSA Title IV program. Scholarships are the absolute best type of financial aid because they do not need to be paid back. As long as you are meeting the academic requirements you can use that money to pay for your college expenses without the burden of repayment. Check with your prospective school(s) and see what aid programs they are qualified to receive funding from. Take the time to do the research and see if you can find alternative financial aid options!