Financial Aid for Education Students
Reviewed by Jon Konen, District Superintendent
Whether you’ve decided you’re ready to enter the classroom as a new teacher or advance your existing career in the field of education, you’re going to have to find a way to pay for your education. A recent news report confirmed what many students know: tuition costs today are much higher than they were twenty years ago. So how do you prepare for the sticker shock?
The three main ways students afford college and graduate school are scholarships, grants, and financial aid. This page covers financial aid, which can come from federal, state, private and school sources to help you pay for school and become the educator you want to be.
Federal Financial Aid
Federal financial aid comes primarily in the form of loans offered by the federal government. These loans must be paid back with interest. It’s important to note that interest rates on federal loans are often lower than those attached to private loans, so it is prudent to maximize these loans before resorting to private aid. Federal aid can also come in the form of tax benefits for education.
The TEACH Grant and Other Federal Grants
Grants are usually designed to address teacher shortages in high-need subject areas and underserved student populations. If you fulfill the requirements of the grant, you do not need to pay the money back.
One example is the TEACH Grant, a federal award worth up to $4,000 a year for full-time education students who agree to serve low-income students in high-need teaching subjects. Those who receive the grant must teach under those conditions for a minimum of four years within eight years of completing their program of study. If a student does not fulfill the requirements of the grant, the money effectively becomes a loan and needs to be paid back.
To be eligible, you must enroll in a TEACH-Grant-eligible program and must maintain a high academic performance, typically a GPA of 3.25 or higher. The program will specifically prepare students for careers in high-need teaching fields, including math, science, special education and bilingual education.
The Department of Education also offers other federal grants, detailed below.
Federal loans are funded by the federal government and must be paid back with interest. Typically, these loans are less expensive than those offered by private banks and credit unions and they also offer benefits you may not find with private loans. For example, federal loans may be offered with fixed interest levels and repayment plans based on your income level and/or enrollment status. For this reason, many students utilize federal loans before private loans.
The chart below details the various types of loans available from the federal government.
Federal Work-Study Program
The Federal Work- Study program helps students at the undergraduate and graduate level pay for their education with part-time jobs. Students who show financial need can apply to their schools or nearby non-profit organizations for jobs related to their field of study. Education students might apply to tutor students at a nearby school, for example.
Payment will be at least minimum wage but may vary according to job. It’s important to note that work-study jobs are not guaranteed, so be proactive in seeking them out if you’re after this type of federal aid.
How to Apply for Financial Aid
No matter what type of federal aid you seek, you must first fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, usually referred to as the FAFSA.
The FAFSA will determine how much aid you qualify for, and what types of federal aid are available to you. Although there are eligibility requirements (you must be a US citizen or eligible non-citizen and must be enrolled in an eligible degree or certificate program), federal aid is not wholly dependent on need. The size of a student’s family as well as the year in school is also considered.
Filling Out the FAFSA
The US Department of Education maintains an extensive website and the FAFSA form is readily and freely available online, in print, and through a mobile app. Never pay for a service to access or fill out this form. If you are not ready to apply but want to get a sense of how much aid you will receive, use the free FAFSA4caster tool.
Once you’re ready to fill out the FAFSA, be sure to gather the following information and documentation:
Submitting the FAFSA
Why You Need to Choose an Accredited Program
It is critically important to choose a school or a program that is accredited, meaning the school has met standards established by an approved independent agency offering accreditation.
The US Department of Education offers a search engine to check the accreditation status of schools, so be sure to check. If your school is not accredited, you may not be eligible for federal or state aid.
Teacher Loan Forgiveness Programs
Entering the field of education means you may be eligible for possible loan forgiveness. Programs at the federal and state levels offer forgiveness of loans for teachers who satisfy certain requirements, such as working for a minimum number of years in a high need or under-served area.
Several individual states also have loan forgiveness programs that may help. The American Federation of Teachers operates a searchable database that allows you to search for loan forgiveness programs within your specific state.
Many banks and loan companies offer private loans to students, but these loans can be more expensive than federal loans. Interest rates can be high, and some private loans come with fees that drive up the overall cost of the loan.
It’s important to do your research, though, as you may find private loans that carry lower interest rates than those available through the government, especially if you have a co-signer or good personal credit history. You should also consider whether the loan is subsidized or not, as many private organizations will require you to pay interest even while you are in school.
The process to apply for private loans varies based on the institution offering the loan. You normally need a good credit score to be approved, or you’ll need to have a cosigner.
Troops to Teachers and Other Education Benefits for Veterans
The Troops to Teachers program was established by the federal government to help veterans enter the teaching field as a new career. Since it was established in 1993, the program has helped more than 20,000 troops become educators in public and charter schools across the US.
Eligible veterans may receive up to $10,000 in financial assistance as they transition to the classroom. The program, which is offered in 31 states, also offers career counseling, help with teaching certification, and assistance with job placement.
The US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) also provides a variety of grants and educational programs for veterans, those currently serving, and their family members. Prospective teachers and others may benefit from the following programs:
Post 9/11 GI Bill
This program offers up to three years of education benefits, including tuition assistance, to active duty or honorably discharged veterans and those with a minimum of 90 days of active duty after September 10, 2001.
Montgomery GI Bill
Active duty and reservists may be eligible for this bill that provides higher education benefits to eligible servicemembers.
Veterans Educational Assistance Program
This government matching program allows eligible military members to make monthly monetary contributions from their paychecks, which the government then matches two-for-one.
National Call to Service Program
Educational assistance ranges from a $5,000 bonus to a repayment of student loans up to $18,000 for eligible military personnel.
Teach for America
Teach for America is a national program that started in 1990 to address educational inequalities at the elementary and secondary school level in the US. TFA offers training and aid to future teachers who may not have majored in education as undergraduates. Training takes place in the summer, and TFA pays for food, transportation and living expenses during that period. No-interest loans are also available to members. The program also helps corps members achieve temporary certification before they begin teaching in their assigned region. In exchange for these benefits, teachers agree to work for two years in an underserved public-school community.
Other Types of Financial Aid
You are also encouraged to consider other types of financial aid and ways to cut costs and manage your school expenses.
Interest-Free Tuition Payment Plans
Many schools work with independent companies who offer short-term plans (typically one year) that split your tuition payment up into monthly payments. Some of these companies do charge fees, so check before you sign up.
The Internal Revenue Service provides a number of tax benefits for education for each of a student’s first four years of school including The American Opportunity Credit of $2500 and The Lifetime Learning Credit of $2000.
Don’t forget to inquire at your school about fellowships, scholarships, grants, and other aid packages available to education students.
Scholarships for Teachers
You can’t be awarded scholarships you don’t apply for, so do your homework and see what’s out there for teachers. The American Federation of Teachers, for example, maintains a searchable database of funding opportunities for teachers.