School has already begun and the college application season is in full swing for seniors in high school. As a professional in higher education for over ten years, with my formative years in college admissions, I am here to help break down some elements the college application process entails. Applying for college can be exciting, but can also bring a lot of stress and anxiety, especially around finances. Before getting scared of the sticker price on your favorite school, read on for some helpful information regarding paying for college and special scholarship information for LGBTQ+ students.
First things first though. In order to qualify for financial aid, all students will need to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA (good news, the government made it much easier than it was back in my day!) It is highly recommended to do this sooner than later so you can get your information to the schools you are applying for as soon as possible. *Side note: you will need your parents tax information, so make sure they are around.
IF you think you may quality for being an independent student due to various circumstances, please reach out directly to the college and university’s financial aid offices, as this process can be a bit more complicated. You can start on the student aid website, but I highly recommend reaching out to financial aid offices.
Essentially, there are two types of financial aid:
Merit-Based Aid: Money given to you from the college for your merits. It can be a combination of good grades, test scores and sometimes extracurriculars. Please be aware, many schools are going test optional for admissions, but they may require tests (SAT or ACT) for merit based aid. The best way is to check with each school you are applying to.
Need-Based Aid: Depending on the college or university, partial or full need can be met. Every school is different but in order to qualify for any need-based aid you MUST file the FAFSA. (*The FAFSA needs to be re-submitted every year so pay attention to emails from financial aid when you are at school- don’t miss the deadlines). Need-based aid can account for additional scholarship, grants and loans.
Heads up: Usually around March/April students will receive their financial aid packages to include any merit-based aid PLUS need-based aid (if applicable) so hang tight after you are admitted, sometimes the full financial aid package takes a bit longer depending on schools.
SCHOLARSHIPS AND GRANTS = FREE MONEY
Scholarships and grants are free money for you. Most schools offer merit based scholarships, and sometimes specific scholarships for particular majors, identities, interests, etc. Additionally, schools may also offer grants that are specific to that school or some states have grants for being a resident of a state (I know for certain there is one in Florida called the Florida State Education Grant, so make sure to check your state for any grants just for being a resident in a certain state!)
STUDENT LOANS = YOU MUST PAY IT BACK
Direct Subsized: Money available to undergraduate students who demonstrate financial need to help cover college costs. There are many income based ways to pay these off and they are a significantly lower interest rate than a private loan. There are caps per year to how much you can get. They can cover things like housing and food in addition to tuition.
Direct Unsubsized: Money available to undergraduate, graduate and professional students to help cover college costs but is not based on financial need. Like subsized, these also can cover other costs outside of tuition and
PLUS loans: For undergraduates, your parents can take out parent PLUS loans for additional costs outside of tuition.
Private Loans- I do not recommend taking out these types of loans. The interest rates can be quite high and private loan companies can be predatory. However, if you feel you must go this route, take caution and consult with your financial aid office.
Please make sure to read and refer to the student aid website, and borrow responsively. Check your state funding options too, some states have grants and scholarships available to you in addition to federal aid.
Another option to budget better for school would be to do two years at a community college close to home to save a lot of money and transfer to the school of your choice, remember that is an option as well and can be a great way to take your time and really see what you would like to study while saving some money.
Campus Pride Scholarship Database : The Campus Pride Index is also a great website that you can use to find LGBTQ+ friendly campuses and connects. They offer college fairs, college application assistance and other resources specifically geared toward LGBTQ+ students.
Point Foundation LGBTQ+ Scholarship Fund: The Point Foundation is another great resource for LGBTQ+ students and they offer their flagship scholarship as well as other scholarships for BIPOC students and students attending community college.
Human Rights Campaign Scholarship Database: This is a great tool where you can search for categories or specific states or you can view all scholarships and see which ones may match you.
Bold.org: Although not specific for LGBTQ+ only, this site has a lot of scholarship opportunities as well as LGBTQ+ specific, like this one for LGBTQ+ student in Oceanic studies. (Deadline is Sept. 15- but check every year/semester for more!)
Remember, if college/university is part of your journey, think of it as an investment in your future career trajectory. If you have fallen in love with a school, don't let the high prices scare you off from at the very least applying. You never know what sort of financial aid a school is able to offer during the financial aid process and there may be some additional scholarships you may be awarded that are not always advertised. From my ten plus years working in higher education, mostly at private liberal arts schools,I have witnessed first hand some "hidden scholarships" from the internet that may be available to exceptional students.
About the Author: C. Rizleris (they/them) is a contributing writer for the Pride and Joy Foundation and has worked in higher education for over ten years. They also volunteer with LGBTQ+ youth at the Guilford Green Foundation and serve on the Transgender Task Force Committee for the city of Greensboro, NC. Currently, they are working on a hybrid essay collection centered liminal spaces as a candidate for an MFA in Writing at Vermont College of Fine Arts. You can find C. on Twitter @rizwrites.