How to Finance Your Bachelor’s Degree in the United States

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How to Finance Your Bachelor’s Degree in the United States

As you end your time in secondary education and begin to think about your future at a college or university, you may feel that finding the right school or major will be the hardest task. In reality, the hardest decision may be how to finance your post-secondary education. Read on to learn about your options.

  • 1. Private Donor

    A private donor is not actually an individual who pays for your specific education, but rather someone who donates to the school in the form of a scholarship. Private donor scholarships come from organizations or individuals not specifically affiliated with the school to which you are applying. The person who donates the scholarship money decides how the recipient can spend the money. Sometimes, a scholarship will be a "full ride" and cover everything from tuition to meal plans. Other times, the private donor will only cover certain parts of the education, such as tuition and books. Students would still be responsible for paying for their meals, housing and other non-academic expenses. In most cases, any unused funds will be returned to the donor after a certain amount of time passes. Private donor scholarships are available for people from all walks of life. You might apply for this type of scholarship if you are of Hispanic descent, are entering an early childhood education program, are a transfer student or for a wide range of other reasons.

  • 2. Scholarships

    Of course, one of the most common ways that students pay for their bachelor programs in the US is with scholarships. Scholarships are available in increments as small as a few hundred dollars to as large as thousands of dollars and can cover everything from books to your entire college education. While many scholarships are awarded only to the best of the best academically, there is a range of other scholarships available as well. You don't need to have a perfect grade point average or be the valedictorian of your graduating class to earn a scholarship. Consider these other categories. Average Academic Performance – You can receive an academic scholarship for average grades as long as you have something else to offer as well. This type of funding typically also considers your extracurricular activities, volunteer work or positions of leadership.Athletics – While athletic scholarships do focus on academics, they don't require perfect grades as long as you've tried your best. If you excel in American football, gymnastics, volleyball or a range of other sports, this type of scholarship may be for you.Minorities – Depending on your ethnicity, you may be eligible for a scholarship for minorities. Keep in mind that these scholarships may have academic or other requirements as well.Women – Women who are entering college can often take advantage of a range of scholarships specifically for them. These are often available for use in any field and are a good option if you choose a major that doesn't otherwise have a lot of scholarship offerings.Creativity – If you intend to enter a program for art, music or dance, search for scholarships based on your creative pursuits. Keep in mind that some may require audition tapes or other proof of your talents.Community Service – If you have given much back to your community, this type of scholarship may be for you. The type of community service you do may play into which scholarships you find.Unusual Scholarships – There are many types of scholarships that don't fit into traditional categories. Are you left-handed? There's a scholarship for that. Can you create an awesome prom dress out of duct tape? You could earn college money if yours is the best. Private companies provide most of these types of scholarships.

  • 3. Government Grants

    The United States government issues millions of dollars in federal grants directly to students to use for their college education each year. The two most common types of grants are need-based and merit-based. Need-based grants are for students who have a financial hardship and might otherwise have trouble paying to go to college. Merit-based grants are based on a student's performance, such as good grades or other achievements. One of the best reasons to apply for federal grants is because they don't require you to repay them. There are other types of grants as well. Groups of People – Certain groups of people receive grants, such as veterans, students who were in foster care, students with disabilities or those who choose to follow certain career paths.Pell Grants – These are very common need-based grants. In addition to meeting certain financial requirements, the recipient must be in school a certain amount of time each year.Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant – The FSEOG is based on the school and program a student selects. Applicants with the largest financial hardships are considered first for these grants.Academic Competitiveness Grants – ACGs reward students who not only followed a rigorous academic track in high school but also falls under the low-income umbrella for the first and second years of college.National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent – The SMART Grant is for students who need assistance paying for their third and fourth years of college, are Pell Grant recipients, are majoring in STEM fields and who are above average academically. There are also grants for a number of career paths, including teaching, nursing and many more.

  • 4. Federal Loans

    Grants aren't the only type of financial aid the federal government provides for students. It also offers a variety of loans. Unlike grants, federal loans must be paid back. In most cases, you begin paying it back after you earn your degree. If you leave college before graduating, you will usually be required to start paying back the loan about six months later. Sometimes, you can defer your loan payments, but this depends on your personal circumstances. Currently, the government offers four types of loans. Federal Perkins Loans – Perkins loans typically go to students who have the most financial need. They are known for low interest rates and currently max out at $27,500.Federal Direct Subsidized Loans – Also based on need, direct subsidized loans have low, fixed interest rates, which the government pays while you're enrolled in college. While amounts may change over time, students can currently borrow $3,500 during their freshman year, $4,500 during their sophomore year and $5,500 in junior and senior years.Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans – These loans are not based on need but do have low fixed interest rates. You can borrow more money when you use these types of loans and choose to pay the interest while you're enrolled or add it to the final amount, but the second choice means paying more money in the long run.Federal Direct PLUS Loans – PLUS loans are not base do need, either. These loans are best for people who need to borrow the full amount of attending college. They have fixed interest rates, although the rates are not as low as with other loan options.

  • 5. Bank Loans

    Private student loans, which are typically bank loans, are typically not preferred because they often have higher interest rates. However, there are some situations in which they may be a good idea. Consider a bank loan for the following reasons: You already completed the FAFSA to see if you were eligible for federal grants and loans or work-study fundingYou have good credit or have a cosigner who has good creditYou have already borrowed all you can in federal loansYou will only borrow as much as you need for your education When choosing a private loan, never pick the first one you come across. Instead, compare offers from multiple lenders first. In addition to banks, you may find loans from online lenders or credit unions. Focus on those with the lowest interest rates, especially if they have a fixed rate, which will stay the same for the duration of the loan. Look into whether the lenders offer borrower protections, such as deferment or forbearance, too. In addition, ensure there are no penalties if you end up paying your loan off early. Qualifying for a private student loan will depend on the lender you choose. Most look at your credit score and your income, and the higher those they are, the more money the lender will offer you. This is where a co-signer becomes important. Most undergraduates do not have established credit scores, and some may not have a solid work history, which means they are less likely to receive funding without a cosigner. Sometimes, a lender will provide funding for a student based on his or her future income potential, but that financing may come with a higher interest rate.

  • 6. Family

    Of course, some students are lucky enough to be in a position where their parents or other family members can help to pay for college. Before you begin applying for loans, talk to your parents, grandparents or other family members to see if they can assist with your college education. Those who have the finances to do so will often be happy to help. To learn more financing your college education, check out SchoolApply. The website provides a wide variety of information to help you on your career path.

Levels Explained

  • Bachelor's

    A bachelor's degree (also called a first degree or undergraduate degree) is attained after receiving a post-secondary (high school) education and generally spans four years. Students pursuing these types of degrees are commonly referred to as bachelor or undergraduate students. A bachelor's degree is usually offered at an institution of higher education, such as a university.

  • Master's

    A master’s degree (or postgraduate or graduate education) involves learning and studying for academic or professional degrees. This degree is preceded by a bachelor’s degree and generally takes two years to complete. Students pursuing these types of degrees are commonly referred to as master's, or grad students.

  • Pathway

    Bachelor’s and master’s pathway programs are designed for international students who need additional English language and academic preparation before continuing to a degree program at a university. The purpose of these programs are to give students the confidence and skills needed to succeed in college.