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With close to 250 colleges and universities across Pennsylvania, student loans and — preferably — scholarships and grants are vital for many students attending school in the Keystone State.
Likewise, the average Pennsylvania student loan debt among class of 2018 graduates was $37,061, which also means that refinancing existing loans (or getting awesome ones to start with) might be top of mind for students and graduates.
From the Ivy League experience at the University of Pennsylvania to two-year technical programs at the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics, here’s what you need to know about the three main types of financial aid in Pennsylvania:
Avoiding Pennsylvania student loans with grants and scholarships
Before you take out any student loans, you’ll want to exhaust your possibilities in terms of grants and scholarships. While there are many, many awards out there nationally, here are some special for Pennsylvania students:
Blind or Deaf Higher Education Beneficiary Grant (BDBG) Program
The Blind or Deaf Higher Education Beneficiary Grant Program is designed to help Pennsylvania residents with visual or hearing impairments achieve higher education. One of only a few grants for college in Pennsylvania, the best part of this financial aid program is that it doesn’t require repayment (provided you do meet all the eligibility requirements).
In order to be eligible, students must be Pennsylvania residents with written documentation proving their impairment. You must also be enrolled at least half-time in a postsecondary institution and maintain satisfactory academic progress.
To apply, fill out both a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the BDBG Application, available here. You must also contact the Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) at (866) 375-8264 or ask your doctor to complete and sign page 4 of the application to verify your eligibility.
This grant offers students no more than $500 per academic year, but can be renewed annually.
Fostering Independence Tuition Waiver Program
If you grew up in foster care, the Fostering Independence Tuition Waiver Program could help you pay for college. As its name suggests, the program offers a waiver of tuition and many mandatory fees — though it applies only to costs that remain after all other sorts of Pennsylvania state aid and scholarships have been utilized.
To qualify for this program, students must:
- Be a Pennsylvania resident
- Be under the age of 26
- Have received a high school or Commonwealth Secondary School Diploma
- Have been in foster care (or have been adopted) on or after their 16th birthday
- Demonstrate financial need
- Not be in default on existing student loans
- Have not received the waiver for five years, consecutive or not
- Be enrolled at least half-time as an undergraduate in a postsecondary school that is accredited and approved for Title IV aid (for full details on Title IV eligibility, see this document — or contact a representative from your college directly)
To apply, you must fill out a FAFSA and also apply — and be named eligible for — the Chafee Education and Training Grant. For further information on this program, including how to appeal if you’re found ineligible, click here.
PA Forward Graduate Student Loan
Pennsylvania higher education loans aren’t just for undergraduates — they can help graduate students fund their schooling, as well. The PA Forward Graduate Student Loan offers fixed-rate loans that can cover up to 100% of the certified cost of attendance, including tuition, fees, room and board and books.
Schools both within and outside of Pennsylvania are eligible, so long as the student is a commonwealth resident; furthermore, residents of the following approved states may apply for the loan to attend certain Pennsylvania schools:
- New Jersey
- New York
The minimum loan amount is $1,500, and there are no origination or application fees, as well as no prepayment penalty. At time of writing, the loan’s rates ranged from 4.03% to 6.56% APR, with individual rates varying based on credit history, loan term and repayment plan. (Keep in mind that you can add a cosigner to your loan, as well, if your credentials need a boost.)
PA Forward Parent Loan
Designed specifically for the parents and guardians of dependent undergraduate students, the PA Forward Parent Loan offers another alternative for families looking to cover the costs of college together.
This loan program carries many of the same terms as the PA Forward Graduate Student Loan program outlined above, though its APR ranges from 4.21% to 6.40%* and parent borrowers must meet the loan’s credit requirements. The loan can be offered with a 10- or 15-year term, and the minimum monthly payment will be no less than $50 for an immediate repayment plan.
PA Forward Undergraduate Student Loan
Another source of Pennsylvania state aid for college, the PA Forward Undergraduate Student Loan offers up to 100% of the certified cost of attendance at a fixed rate of 4.03% to 6.56%* APR. Multiple repayment plan options are available to help customize your loan to your needs: Immediate repayment, interest-only, partial interest payments and full deferral.
Loans are available with terms of either 10 or 15 years, and you do have the option to add a cosigner, though it’s not required. For other eligibility details — which largely match the rest of the PA Forward Pennsylvania state aid programs above — click here.
PA Forward Refinance Loan
If you’re considering refinancing your student loans, the PA Forward program offers a student loan refinancing option as well. Refinancing can help you save money in the short term by lowering your monthly payment, or in the long term by reducing your interest rate and loan term — as well as simplifying your life by lumping all your student debt into one payment.
The PA Forward Refinance Loan carries a minimum loan amount of $5,000, and up to $300,000 can be borrowed. There’s no prepayment penalty and no origination or application fees, and loan terms vary from five to 20 years.
Eligibility requirements are similar to other PA Forward programs; full details can be found here. The interest rates for this loan range from 3.72% to 7.11%* APR, depending on creditworthiness.
PATH (Partnerships for Access to Higher Education) Program
The PATH Program offers additional aid to students who have already been selected to receive certain Pennsylvania state grants for college. The maximum grant will not exceed $2,500 per academic year.
In order to be eligible, students must have been nominated by a participating PATH Partner in their community — a full list of which can be found here — and received an academic scholarship as a result. You must also have received a Pennsylvania State Grant for the semester or quarter in which you’ve been nominated, and demonstrate financial need for the additional funding.
To apply, fill out a FAFSA and contact a participating PATH Partner in your area. For more details on this program, see this page.
Pennsylvania Chafee Education and Training Grant Program
The PA Chafee Education and Training Grant Program is another Pennsylvania state aid program aimed at students with a foster care history — most recently, in the 2019-20 school year, it offered an award of up to $5,000. Applying for this program automatically means you’ll be screened for eligibility for the Fostering Independence Tuition Waiver Program as discussed above.
Eligibility requirements include, but aren’t limited to:
- Pennsylvania state residency
- Student age of 26 or under
- Demonstrating financial need
- At least half-time enrollment
- Satisfactory academic progress
To apply for this grant, fill out a FAFSA and the Pennsylvania Chafee Education and Training Grant Program Application. For full eligibility requirements and more details, click here.
Pennsylvania State Grant Program
The state of Pennsylvania offers some grants and scholarships — that is, aid that generally doesn’t need to be repaid — based on demonstrated financial need. The exact amount you may receive through the Pennsylvania State Grant Program depends on the program you attend, but many applicants receive as much as several thousand dollars.
Eligible applicants must, among other requirements:
- Be a Pennsylvania state resident
- Be a high school graduate
- Not yet hold a bachelor’s degree
- Be enrolled at least half time in a postsecondary program at least two academic years in length
- If the postsecondary program is not headquartered in Pennsylvania, at least 50% of the program must be completed through in-classroom study
- Have made satisfactory academic progress and be “of satisfactory character (for example, not incarcerated)”
To apply, you must fill out a FAFSA and also submit the Pennsylvania State Grant Form. You can do this directly from your FAFSA confirmation page; for more information, click here.
Pennsylvania Targeted Industry Program
The Pennsylvania Targeted Industry Program offers need-based awards to students pursuing studies in the following specific, highly sought-after industries:
- Advanced materials and diversified manufacturing
- Agriculture and food production
The maximum award at time of writing is $4,123, or up to 75% of direct educational costs after other gift and employer aid is applied — whichever is less.
Full eligibility requirements are detailed here, but they include being domiciled in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania and having a high school diploma, GED or recognized homeschool certificate. You’ll still be eligible to apply even if you’ve already received a bachelor’s or even graduate degree, so take note of this program if you’re undergoing a career change.
Postsecondary Educational Gratuity Program
If you’re the child of a police officer, firefighter, rescue or ambulance squad member, corrections facility employee or National Guard member who died on duty, you may be eligible for Pennsylvania’s Postsecondary Educational Gratuity Program. This program waives tuition, fees and on-campus room and board costs at public Pennsylvania postsecondary institutions, including community colleges and state universities.
To apply for this program, file the PEGP Application and include a certified copy of your birth certificate when you mail it in. You’ll also need to provide the letter of admission to your chosen postsecondary school, as well as submitting a FAFSA and the Pennsylvania State Grant Application.
Ready to Succeed Scholarship Program
The Ready to Succeed Scholarship Program offers awards of up to $2,000 for full-time students and $1,000 to half-time students who are high academic achievers. The funds, which don’t require repayment for those who achieve and maintain eligibility, can be used toward college costs like tuition, fees, books, supplies and living expenses.
To be eligible, students must meet the same requirements as they must for the Pennsylvania State Grant program (with the exception of demonstrated financial need). They must also have completed at least one academic year of collegiate study so as to prove their high academic achievement — which, for the purposes of this program, means maintaining a GPA of 3.5 or higher. Finally, they must come from a family whose income does not exceed $110,000.
There’s no separate application for this scholarship program; rather, schools nominate students based on their academic performance and other eligibility criteria. Funding is limited and meted out on a first-come, first-served basis, so it’s in your best interest to fill out the FAFSA and Pennsylvania State Grant forms as early as possible each year.
Federal student loans
Aside from the specific student grants and programs in Pennsylvania listed above, students also have the option of federal and private student loans to consider. In most cases, applying for federal student loans — by way of filling out the FAFSA — is the best place to start.
Federal student loans offer some protections that are generally unavailable on the private student loan market. For example, some federal student loans may be subsidized by the government, based on your demonstrated financial need — which is to say, the U.S. Department of Education will pay the interest on these loans while the student is in school, during the grace period, and during any periods of deferment.
Federal student loans also tend to offer more flexibility in the repayment period, and don’t often require a credit check for qualification (only for PLUS loans, which are available to graduate students and parents of undergrads).
Private student loans
Private student loans, on the other hand, come directly from banks, credit unions and other financial institutions. They generally do qualify you based on your credit history, and their interest rates may be variable as well as fixed.
Shopping around can help you find private student loans available for your particular situation and credit rating, so be sure to ask for relevant details like the interest rate and terms from each prospective lender.
In-state vs. out-of-state tuition in Pennsylvania
Keep in mind that in-state and out-of-state tuition can vary greatly, based on the institution and program. Here’s a look at three major schools in the state:
University of Pennsylvania
Penn State University
- Tuition and fees (in state): $18,454
- Tuition and fees (out of state): $35,984
Carnegie Mellon University
- Undergraduate tuition and fees (in and out of state): $58,485 (with an additional $325 orientation fee for first-year students)
Note also that many institutions offer school- and program-specific scholarships, grants and aid options, so it’s always in your best interest to check with your financial aid office directly.
Andrew Pentis contributed to this report.
*Rates are accurate as of July 31, 2020
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