Am I Eligible for Financial Aid?
Congratulations! If you’re on this page, you’re probably exploring healthcare programs such as medical assistant training, or thinking about changing your career—and wondering how you’re going to pay for your education. We’ll walk you through what you need to know about financial aid step-by-step, from how you qualify to what options are available. You may even be able to work off financial aid—or have it forgiven—over time.
“The most important things for students to find out are what kinds of financial aid are available and to complete financial aid documents on time,” says Jodi Okun, founder of College Financial Aid Advisors. Every school is a little different and might have different deadlines.
Steps to Understanding Financial Aid
Estimate How Much Your Program Will Cost
To get a handle on what sort of financial aid you need, you first need understand how much it will cost to get your degree. Costs include tuition—the actual cost of your education—but can also include fees, books, equipment and—if you’re living on campus—room and board. Try to remember that the “sticker price” might not be what you actually pay. Your cost will depend on:
Depending on these factors, tuition can vary widely. Tuition for a medical assistant program, for example, could range from $3,300 to $15,000. Be sure to look for this information when you’re researching schools.
Learn About Financial Aid Types
There are many types of financial aid:
Financial aid comes from three sources: the federal government, the state, and possibly the school. Some schools might also have scholarships to offer, but these aren’t technically financial aid. They are merit awards based on grades, test scores or other factors.
“Prospective students should reach out to their school before enrolling to see what types of student aid are available, as it may vary depending on the school or program,” says Erin Powers, spokesperson for the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA). “They should also ensure they’re aware of enrollment requirements and ask about what is needed to apply for financial aid.”
For instance, to receive federal student aid at a Title IV-eligible school (a school whose students are eligible for federal aid), a student must be enrolled at least half time.
What Types of Schools Offer Financial Aid?
Financial aid is available for both traditional classroom and online learning programs. If you’re exploring an online program, find out from the school how your financial aid will be disbursed to you for living expenses after your tuition has been paid. “Students who are taking online programs and expect to receive a financial aid refund to use for cost-of-living expenses should communicate with the school about how and when they will receive that refund,” Powers says. Ask if you need to sign a form to have any remaining funds deposited into your personal bank account.
It’s extremely important to note: To receive federal financial aid, you must attend an accredited college or career school that uses the FAFSA. Accreditation means the school meets specific standards as determined by an independent agency and offers an education that meets employer standards. Use the Database of Postsecondary Institutions and Programs (DAPIP) to check whether a specific school is accredited or to search for accredited programs and schools.
Don’t be surprised if a career school, community college, or online school doesn’t offer scholarships or other aid. “For the most part, these schools don’t have big pots of institutional funds to award to students, but this will vary on a case-by-case basis,” Powers says. Financial aid is still available from other sources for these programs.
Fill Out the FAFSA
To be eligible for federal student aid, a student must file the U.S. Department of Education’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA is the gateway to all financial aid. States and schools also use the FAFSA to calculate your eligibility for any aid they award. But some schools may also require additional applications or documentation, so be sure to ask. You only have to fill out the FAFSA once to be eligible for federal, state or school aid.
The annual opening date to apply for aid is October 1 and the closing date is June 30–but each state and college also has its own deadline, and they’re usually earlier than June. Find out what those deadlines are so you don’t miss them. Some states offer state aid on a first-come, first-served basis, so filing your FAFSA as soon as you can after October 1 could benefit you.
Most of the time, any aid you get will depend on your financial need. If Allied Health students have exceptional need as defined by the FAFSA (which generally means that the student’s expected family contribution (EFC) to their education payments is less than one-half of the student’s total cost of attendance, as determined by an eligible institution), you might qualify for a Pell grant, an FSEOG grant, and/or possibly a grant from your state. If you don’t have a lot of need, you can still qualify for federal student loans. The only way to know is to fill out the FAFSA. We’ll break it down for you below and explain what you need to know.
The FAFSA is the gateway to all financial aid—apply between October 1 and June 30, the earlier the better.
When you fill out the FAFSA, you will list the schools you’re applying to, and they will receive your FAFSA information. Schools will use the information to put together award letters that you will receive by email or paper mail. Your letter will include any federal, state, or school aid you’re eligible for and possibly a merit award if your schools offer them. Sometimes an award letter will list financial aid only, and a merit scholarship comes earlier or later. If you have questions, you can always call your school’s financial aid office.
The FAFSA will require information about your personal finances and living circumstances like your income, assets, household size, and marital status. This information helps the government, your state, and your school determine your eligibility for need-based aid (aid based on income) and merit scholarships. Sometimes private scholarships from outside organizations also use the FAFSA to determine eligibility for an award.
Documents You Need for the FAFSA
Before you fill out the FAFSA, it’s best to gather your documents so you don’t need to hunt around while you’re in the middle of the online form. Here’s what you’ll need to get started:
Even if you think you won’t qualify for a grant or a scholarship, you can still get a federal student loan with the FAFSA. Also, having the FAFSA on file is useful if your financial circumstances change due to something like a job loss. If your circumstances do change while you’re in school, talk to the officers in the financial aid office. They might be able revise your financial aid.
What About Undocumented Students?
Students with undocumented status should not fill out the FAFSA because they cannot qualify for federal student aid. However, some states offer financial aid, and undocumented students should fill out state forms. Some schools also have their own financial aid form if a state doesn’t have one. If a student isn’t sure what to do, they can contact a school’s financial aid office to find out.
Go for the ‘Free Money’ First
You’ll always want to make sure you first explore and exhaust any opportunities for money you don’t have to pay back. Federal, state and school grants—plus scholarships—fall into the free money category. Here’s what to know:
The federal government typically offers a couple of types of grants to Allied Health program students.
The FAFSA determines whether you’re eligible for them:
Many states offer financial aid, usually either a state need grant or a scholarship for students who are residents of the state. California, for example, offers a number of state grants for qualified California students attending eligible institutions. Besides state residency, requirements might include a certain grade point average, type of school (check the list), or qualifying income. Washington state offers the Washington College Grant for income-eligible students. It also offers the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship for students in high-demand fields, including healthcare.
If you’re lucky enough to live in a state with free community college and decide to go that route, you won’t have to pay tuition regardless of need.
State grants and scholarships are commonly called “promise” programs. Ask colleges you’re looking at what your state offers. They’ll likely know which resources to point you to.
If you’re lucky enough to live in a state with free community college and decide to go that route, you won’t have to pay tuition regardless of need. Research your state’s student aid program to learn eligibility requirements; this map will get you started.
If your top college is out of state but the higher tuition is daunting, see if you qualify for lower tuition under a tuition reciprocity agreement. Most regions have these agreements, which could allow you to go to college in a neighboring state for less than full out-of-state tuition rates. Not all colleges participate, but those that do will be members of the Western Undergraduate Exchange, the New England Regional Student Exchange, the Midwest Student Exchange, or the Academic Common Market in the South. The Academic Common Market region also offers the Regional Contract Program, which enables students to pursue professional health degrees out of state for reduced tuition.
This award, also available through the FAFSA, pays undergraduate and graduate students to work part-time jobs on or off campus. Work-study is a need-based award for part-time and full-time students. (Double check that your school participates in the program.) The amount you qualify for will depend on your school’s funding level, your need, and when you apply. Often, awards are small, and most of the time you’re paid directly as with any job. However, you can request that the money to go directly toward your tuition bill. Some schools match students to a job, but most expect students to check the school job board and apply to work-study jobs on their own. Campuses also offer non-work-study jobs, available to all students, but those are not part of a financial aid package, just regular part-time jobs.
You can also receive outside private scholarships, although keep in mind that many are often small, ranging from $500 to $2,000. You can find allied healthcare scholarships through associations, non-profits, and corporations. Some of them are dedicated to single parents, veterans, military members, and students of color. You might also have the option of applying for general healthcare scholarships or scholarships related to your field or specialization.
The best scholarships tend to be local or regional because they’re easier to win than national scholarships. Your college of interest might have a list or know of healthcare scholarships in your area, so check the school’s website. Some organizations offer scholarships specific to Allied Health professions, so be sure to review our healthcare scholarship page.
Then Look Into Student Loans
Loans come in several types. There are federal student loans in the student’s name only. Then there are federal loans for parents of dependent students. These loans are in the parent’s name only. And there are private student loans. We’ve outline the different types for you.
Federal Student Loans
Several student and parent loans fall under this program, officially called the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program. They are the Direct Subsidized Loan and Direct Unsubsidized Loan for students, and the Direct PLUS Loan for parents or graduate students.
Federal loans are generally the best option for undergraduate Allied Health students, according to Okun. Student loans have a fixed, low interest rate (approximately 4.5% as of 2020) that is usually lower than private loans, and students don’t need to go through a credit check. Federal loans offer different repayment options, such as the income-driven repayment plan, which could be your choice if your initial earnings after graduation are low. The graduate student interest rate is in the 6% range. Here’s a rundown of the types of federal student loans:
Maximum Annual Amounts of Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans
Direct loans to undergraduate students come with annual limits. The maximum loan amount ranges from $5,500 to $12,500, depending on whether a student is a dependent of their parents. If you’re older than 24, you’re automatically considered independent. That means you only include your own financial information on the FAFSA—and it also means you can qualify for more financial aid. However, if you’re under 24, you’re considered dependent in most cases—even if you’re paying your own living expenses and filing your own taxes.
It’s important to determine your status as a dependent or independent since that can change your amount of financial aid.
Qualifying as an independent student comes with strict guidelines and isn’t easy to do when you’re under 24. It’s important to determine your status because if you’re a dependent, you must include parent/guardian information on the FAFSA. That can change the amount of financial aid you can potentially receive.
Student Aid Limits by Year in School and Status
These are just general guidelines; Schools determine the loan amount based on other financial aid students receive and the cost of attendance, so it’s possible a loan could be less than what is detailed above. A student can borrow an additional $4,000 if they go to school a fifth year, for a grand total of $31,000 in direct loans over five years. Before students borrow, they have to sign a promissory note agreeing to the loan terms and go through online entrance counseling to ensure they understand the terms of the loan.
Health Professions Student Loans
The Health Resources and Service Administration (HRSA) provides funding to schools to offer loans and scholarships to disadvantaged students with the expectation that these students will work in underserved communities when they finish school. HRSA loans include the Health Professions Student Loan, Nursing Student Loan, and Primary Care Loan. These loans come with longer grace periods (delays in repayment), subsidized interest, and lower interest rates.
If a program costs more than you’re able to cover with undergraduate federal student loans, you can get a student loan from a private lender, like a regular bank, credit union, or state-based organization. Interest rates will vary anywhere from 4% to 12%, depending on your credit score and whether you have a co-signer.
These loans will be in the student’s name. However, note that students without an established credit record almost always require a co-signer, usually a parent, which means the parent is on the hook for the loan if the student doesn’t make on-time payments. It’s nearly impossible to get a private loan without a co-signer if you don’t already have a solid credit history.
Parents can also take out a private loan instead of a federal Parent PLUS loan. Be sure to research interest rates and terms. If a parent has excellent credit, above 800, they might get a loan for less than the 7% federal Parent PLUS loan. If not, the private loan interest rate will likely be higher. Financial aid experts recommend students always exhaust federal student loans before turning to private loans.
Pay Back Your Student Loans
If you plan to take out student loans, think about how the debt will affect your finances and what you can afford to repay. Use an online loan calculator to learn what a possible monthly payment might be. Okun cautions not to borrow too much—no more than your first year’s salary at the most. And be sure to use entry-level salary figures as a gauge, not mid-career salaries. You aren’t required to borrow the whole amount of a loan, she says, so take only what you need to keep your debt as low as possible.
Keep track of how much you borrow—many students don’t—and where the loans come from. Federal student loans might be issued by more than one servicer, such as Navient or MOHELA, even for the same borrower.
Student loans typically have to be paid back starting six months after graduation—or earlier if you drop below half-time status in school.
Federal student loans come with several repayment options, depending on your financial situation. You’ll choose a federal loan repayment plan when you graduate. The Institute of Student Loan Advisors is a nonprofit that offers free advice to students trying to figure out the best payment plan for them.
Once you’ve locked down a plan, watch your email notifications and your snail mail for paper statements. It’s important to know when your loan payments start and what your responsibilities are. The start date is usually six months after graduation, but it can kick in earlier if you drop below half-time status in school.
Setting up online accounts with your loan servicer could help you stay on top of notifications. If you have an unsubsidized loan, you can make interest payments while you’re in school. If you’re fortunate enough to be able to pay down principal, you could can do that, too, without being penalized for paying early.
Student Loan Forgiveness Options
You may be eligible to have your student loans canceled, commonly known as loan forgiveness. These programs usually are tied to a repayment plan, but there also are special programs for students who get a degree in a healthcare field. Generally, you have to commit to working for a certain number of years for a specific kind of organization, such as a government agency or a non-profit.
You may be eligible for student loan forgiveness if you get a degree in a healthcare field.
Note, however, that private loans aren’t eligible for forgiveness.
Federal Financial Aid Resources
Understanding and applying for financial can be confusing and a bit daunting. If you have questions, call your school’s financial aid office. They’re there to help you launch successfully as you pursue an education. For detailed information, search for these topics on the Federal Student Aid Office’s website, where you’ll find links to the FAFSA form and many other helpful resources.