On this page
- Why Everyone Should Apply for Financial Aid
- Financial Aid by the Numbers
- Where to Start Your Financial Aid Journey
- Types of Financial Aid You Can Receive
- Public Service Programs That Help Pay for College
- Financial Aid for Veterans and Their Families
- Everything You Need to Know About the FAFSA®
- FAQs About Financial Aid Eligibility
- Additional Financial Aid Resources
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Getting Financial Aid for Your Public Service Degree
It’s no secret that college can be expensive. But that shouldn’t stop you from pursuing your dream public service degree and career. From academic scholarships and need-based grants to tuition assistance through national public service programs, financial aid is available for just about everyone if you know where to look. Keep reading to learn how to get the help you deserve paying for college.
Last Updated: 08/14/2020
Why Everyone Should Apply for Financial Aid
More students receive grants and scholarships than you think
About 63% of undergraduates receive a tuition waiver, grant, or scholarship aid – and the average amount they receive is $7,400.
You won’t have to start repaying most student loans until after graduation
Many types of federal loans have the added benefit of deferred repayments, sometimes with no accrual of interest while you’re in school.
It’s one less barrier to go after the degree and career you want
Financial aid makes college a reality for more people, giving them the opportunity to pursue their dream career in public service.
You can get financial aid by giving back
Joining public service programs like AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps can qualify you for substantial financial aid, while future teachers who commit to working in high-need areas are eligible for the TEACH grant.
It isn’t as difficult as it might seem
Sometimes, all you need to do is apply to a school. Other times, you just need to write a short essay and complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
Financial Aid by the Numbers
Financial aid might sound like something reserved for only the most disadvantaged students. But the truth is that students attending college without the help of financial aid are the significant minority. Almost three-quarters of all students receive at least some form of financial aid. And over half of undergraduates are awarded scholarships, grants or tuition waivers, with graduate students not far behind. Check out the complete statistics in the charts below.
Where to Start Your Financial Aid Journey
Types of Financial Aid You Can Receive
There are two main types of financial aid: gift-based aid and loan-based. The former does not need to be paid back and consists of several different types, such as grants, scholarships, and work study. The latter must be paid back, often with interest. Student loans usually come from the federal government, but can also come from state governments or private lenders such as banks. Learn more about each type of financial aid below.
Public Service Programs That Help Pay for College
What better way to work toward a career in public service than to obtain financial aid through acts of your own public service? That’s how several national public service programs work, such as AmeriCorps, Peace Corps, and the TEACH Grant Program. Participation comes with some major perks, including helping to pay for college. The exact process, amount, and terms of the financial aid will depend on each specific program.
Once an AmeriCorps member has completed their service term, they will be eligible for an education award. This money can be used to pay back certain school loans or cover the costs of current education expenses for qualified training and higher education programs. The most common and popular education award obtained through AmeriCorps service is the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award.
Award amounts vary based on service time, with awards for full-time members matching the maximum Pell Grant award. Visit the AmeriCorps website for up-to-date award amounts.
How to Get Started
An AmeriCorps alumnus can sign in to the My AmeriCorps Portal to request a payment be sent to the student’s school, as well as check on the award’s amount.
Peace Corps volunteers may be eligible for several financial aid benefits once they complete their entire term of service. This includes funds to pay for graduate school (through the Paul D. Coverdell Fellows Program) as well as student loan deferment, partial-cancellation, income-based repayment, and forgiveness.
Varies, but will usually cover part of the tuition and include a monthly stipend.
How to Get Started
To be eligible, an individual must have completed their Peace Corps term of service or otherwise have a qualified excuse for early termination and plan to enroll in a participating school. Each graduate school has the option of participating in the Paul D. Coverdell Fellows Program, and thus, controls the application process.
The TEACH Grant is for those who plan on entering a teaching career but need academic financial assistance to do so. In return for this grant, students will be required to teach in a particular field in a low-income area. Recipients must agree to teach at an elementary school, secondary school, or educational service agency for a period of at least four academic years. This four-year requirement must be completed within eight years of graduation.
Around $3,700 maximum per academic year.
How to Get Started
Eligibility is based on the ability to obtain other forms of federal financial aid. This means you must complete a FAFSA® and enroll in a participating program. Applicants will also need to maintain a satisfactory level of academic performance while in school, receive TEACH Grant counseling, and sign a TEACH Grant Agreement to Serve.
Financial Aid for Veterans and Their Families
In an attempt to recognize members of the armed forces for their services, there are a number of financial aid options available to veterans and members of their families. These benefits will go toward helping pay for the cost of the veteran’s college education or professional training. Here are some of the more popular programs providing the greatest benefits.
- Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants
This grant amounts to roughly $6,200. It is intended for the children of soldiers who died during military service in Iraq or Afghanistan. Additional eligibility requirements include being less than 24 years of age at the time of the parent (or guardian’s) death and meeting all Pell Grant eligibility requirements, except the requirement concerning financial need.
- Post 9/11 GI Bill
Administered by the US Department of Veterans Affairs, these benefits help pay for both formal schooling and career training. Anyone who has aggregate military service of at least 90 days after September 10, 2001 will be eligible for these benefits. The exact amount of the benefits will depend on the amount of service or reason for military discharge.
- Yellow Ribbon Program
Part of the Post 9/11 GI Bill, the Yellow Ribbon Program pays for the tuition and fees for a veteran’s attendance at a public school. Alternatively, it will pay for part of the tuition for a private school (or a public school when the veteran is enrolled as a non-resident).
- Family Transfer Option
This option is available for those eligible for Post 9/11 GI Bill education benefits. It allows a veteran who chooses not to use the benefits to transfer remaining benefits to a spouse, dependent children, or both.
- Montgomery GI Bill
The Montgomery GI Bill is open to anyone in the U.S. Armed Forces, both active duty and reserve, and helps pay for the costs of vocational, certificate, or college programs. The active-duty benefit requires at least two years of service as well as a payment of $100 per month for the first 12 months. Once service is complete, they may receive education benefits paid out monthly. Reservists must be actively drilling and sign up for a six-year obligation.
- Tuition Assistance Top-Up
This program is designed for members of the military who want to earn a degree while on active duty and do not intend to obtain more education after they complete their military service. This benefit pays for the difference between the cost of a class and the actual amount of money received through Tuition Assistance Top-Up.
Everything You Need to Know About the FAFSA®
When it comes to getting college financial aid, the FAFSA® (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is the single most important component. Not only is it necessary to request federal grants and loans, but many schools, states, and private organizations require completion of the FAFSA® as part of their financial aid award process.
When completing the FAFSA®, applicants provide their financial information to help determine how much monetary assistance they can expect.
FAFSA® Pre-Check: What You’ll Need Before Filling It Out
- Social Security #: If you are not a U.S. citizen, you will need your Alien Registration number.
- FSA ID: This is the username and password combination required to complete the FAFSA® online.
- Federal income tax returns for the prior year: If you are a dependent student, you will also need your parents’ tax returns for the prior year. If you are married and filed separately, you’ll need your spouse’s tax returns as well.
- Other documentation concerning untaxed income: This includes documents relating to child support, veterans’ benefits, or interest income that isn’t taxed by the IRS.
- Driver’s license number: You can ignore this if you don’t have a driver’s license.
- Records of financial assets: This refers to bank accounts, investments, and real estate (other than your home).
- A list of schools you’re planning to apply to: If you’re still on the fence about a school, go ahead and still list it – you can always remove it later.
Understanding the FAFSA® Submission and Award Process
The entire FAFSA® process can seem a bit daunting at first. Here’s a quick rundown of what you can expect, from filling it out to receiving your financial aid offers.
Complete the FAFSA®
The FAFSA® can be completed online, using the myStudentAid mobile app, filling out a PDF (to be printed out and mailed upon completion), or by completing a hard copy of the FAFSA® by hand.
Wait for Processing
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid will process the FAFSA®. It will also notify the schools you listed on your FAFSA® and these schools will calculate how much financial aid you will be eligible for should you attend.
Receive Your Student Aid Report (SAR)
The SAR should arrive within a few days of submitting the FAFSA®. This represents a summarized version of the information you submitted in your FAFSA®. You should check the SAR for accuracy and submit any changes if necessary.
Once you’re accepted to a school, the school will send out an award letter that lists the financial aid awards you are eligible to receive.
Compare award letters from the various schools to see which ones offer the most aid.
Common Misperceptions About the FAFSA®
You only need to fill it out once.
The FAFSA® must be completed for each year you are enrolled in a school where you receive (or would like to receive) financial aid. This is because you or your family’s financial situation can change from year to year.
The FAFSA® only qualifies you for federal financial aid.
Completing the FAFSA® is required by most state financial aid agencies, as well as schools and even some private organizations that award grants and scholarships. The FAFSA® helps them determine the extent of an applicant’s financial need.
The FAFSA® costs money to submit.
The FAFSA® is always free to complete and submit. Be very aware of potential scams that say otherwise. You can also ask your high school guidance counselor, a college’s financial aid office, or visit the official FAFSA® website for helpful, no-cost resources.
Good grades are required for financial aid.
This is not true. Many forms of financial aid, especially at the federal level, do not consider academic performance in determining eligibility. Some scholarships,however, do look at the grade point average and other merit-based factors.
If I live by myself, my parents’ financial situation won’t matter.
Technically, this is true, but it’s extremely difficult for a dependent student to prove financial independence as far as the FAFSA® is concerned.
As long as I submit my FAFSA® before the federal deadline, I’ll be fine.
Many sources of financial aid, especially from schools, have limited availability and financial aid offered on a first-come-first-served basis. If you wait until the deadline to submit your FAFSA®, you may miss out on a lot of financial aid.
FAQs About Financial Aid Eligibility
Additional Online Financial Aid Resources for Students and Parents
- CollegeBoard – BigFuture
A comprehensive online resource for everything related to getting into and paying for college.
- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – Paying for College
The CFPB explains the financial aid process and how to understand and choose among the various financial aid options available.
One of the most well-known online resources when it comes to learning more about financial aid options, especially scholarships, part-time jobs, and loans.
- U.S. Department of Education – Federal Student Aid
This is the primary hub of all things relating to federal financial aid, including completing the FAFSA®.
- Federal Student Aid YouTube Channel
The YouTube channel of the Federal Student Aid website has plenty of informative videos to help with the financial aid process.
Offers valuable information about all kinds of financial aid, from scholarships to loans to veterans’ benefits.
- Financial Aid Subreddit
This is a place where school and financial aid officials can provide helpful advice to parents and students and answer specific questions they have.
- Sallie Mae – Financial Aid Planning
This major player in the student loan market has a great website that goes over various ways to pay for school.
Explains how graduate and undergraduate students can obtain loan-based financial aid and how the repayment process works.