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Understanding financial aid options

NCU students at graduation

Higher education is an investment in your future, but it’s also a considerable financial investment. For many people, financial aid helps make higher education possible, but there are many different types of financial aid to consider. What you’re eligible for depends upon your unique circumstances as well as what is offered and accepted at the institution you’re attending.

Perhaps the most commonly known financial aid is Title IV financial aid, which is federally funded student aid that helps people pay for their education. There are three different types of aid in this category: Grants, loans and the work-study program. According to the U.S. Department of Education, this adds up to $120 billion a year in grants, work-study funds, and low-interest loans.

Federal Pell Grants are one of the most well-known forms of financial aid. This type of assistance is for undergraduate students but some students in post-baccalaureate teacher certification programs may also qualify. Pell Grants do not have to be paid back, but there are limits to how much is offered and requirements that must be met in order to receive one. To find out if you’re eligible you have to submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®).

The federal government also offers student loans through two programs: the William D. Ford Direct Federal Loan Program (Direct Loan) and the Federal Perkins Loan Program. These are sometimes referred to as “Direct Loans,” “Stafford Loans” or even “Direct Stafford Loans.” These are all acceptable ways to refer to loans from this program.

Direct Subsidized Loans are for undergraduate students and they are based on financial need. Direct Unsubsidized Loans are for undergraduate and professional students and are not based on financial need. Students at the graduate level can apply for Direct PLUS Loans which are available to both graduate students and parents of students.

Those that have served in the military may be eligible for additional benefits through the military tuition assistance program. This includes education benefits like the Montgomery GI Bill. To have access to this type of aid, however, you must have served in the military and meet other requirements.  

Alternative sources of student financial aid

There are private, non-federal student loans available to cover tuition expenses and other education related costs. These loans may serve as an alternative source of assistance, especially for graduate students. It’s important to note that the terms for these types of loans vary by the lender, and some may require repayment while you’re still in school. It’s important to fully understand the terms of the loan before you make a commitment.

Some companies have assistance programs to help their employees continue their education. This might be a reduced tuition program to attend a specific university or it might take the form of tuition reimbursement. To find out if tuition assistance is available through your work simply contact your company’s human resource department.

Non-federal grants and scholarships are also possible sources for funding. These may be offered by independent organizations, educational institutions or private businesses. You have to do a little work to uncover opportunities in this category, but it’s worth the effort. While you can explore the options available at educational institutions you’re interested in attending, you can also expand your search online. is a good place to start.

Financial aid tips for graduate students

Many types of financial aid are reserved for undergraduate students, making it a bit more difficult to find funding at the graduate level. One possible source is the Direct PLUS Loan for Graduate and Professional Degree Students. This is offered through the federal government and financial need is not a requirement.

Some education educational institutions offer scholarships and grants that can help reduce the cost of tuition. Additionally, many have special tuition rates for veterans or those that are members of professional organizations. You need to inquire directly with the college or university to locate these types of opportunities.

Interested in exploring grants and scholarships at NCU? Read all about our current scholarship offer and learn about our financing options.