If you’re contemplating attending college or are a current student, finances are probably a critical part of your higher education decisions. With the high cost of a college education, you’re likely looking for ways to help pay for school. Financial aid in the form of grants, scholarships, loans and other assistance can provide the support you need to meet rising education costs and help towards the goal of graduating debt-free.
Unfortunately, the financial aid process can create its own series of challenges and complexities, which sparks a lot of questions. When and how do I start? What forms do I need to complete? How do grants differ from loans? What kind of aid can I receive in Connecticut? How do I distinguish between need-based and merit-based aid? Below is a short overview to help unravel the financial aid puzzle.
The Journey Begins with FAFSA
The first step in the student financial aid application process in Connecticut is completing the FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This form enables incoming and returning students to apply for financial assistance from their local community college, college or university, including federal financial aid. Students must reapply each academic year, as financial aid does not carry over year to year.
Grants vs. Loans
Do not assume that you won’t qualify for financial aid, as there is considerable financial assistance available in Connecticut. Some awards are merit-based, such as academic achievement, while others are determined by your financial circumstances. The College Board reports that during the 2014-2015 school year, two-thirds of full-time students paid for college with the help of financial aid; of this number, 57 percent secured grants while 34 percent tapped federal loans.
Grants, often called “gift aid,” are free money that does not need to be repaid. The most popular grant, the Federal Pell Grant, is awarded to students who demonstrate financial need based on information provided on the FAFSA. This grant can be combined with other forms of aid to help meet your educational costs.
Direct Student Loans
There are two types of direct student loans, known as Stafford loans. A Direct Subsidized Loan is for undergraduate students demonstrating financial need. Interest does not accrue on these loans until the student graduates, with a standard repayment period of up to 10 years.
The second type is a Direct Unsubsidized Loan for undergraduate and graduate students where financial need is not an issue. Interest on these loans is due and payable while the student is still in school.
Scholarships tend to be merit-based for high-achieving students and similar to grants. They do not need to be paid back. Many scholarships are based on your financial need, interests or major.
Financial Aid At Norwalk Community College
At Norwalk Community College, the NCC Foundation awards more than $1.5 million in scholarships each year. The NCC Foundation also offers a LEAP Transfer Scholarship Program that provides financial assistance to high-achieving NCC graduates who go on to pursue a bachelor’s degree upon transferring to a four-year college or university. For more FAFSA information or to learn more about financial aid opportunities at NCC, contact us today. Norwalk Community College’s school code for the FAFSA application is 001399.