How to Get Penn State Financial Aid and Loans

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With an undergraduate population of about 46,000 students and a leafy campus spanning nearly 8,000 acres in University Park, Pennsylvania, Penn State University Park is a force to be reckoned with in the world of colleges.

But while the public university has a sizable endowment — $2.62 billion as of mid-2017 — it doesn’t meet the full financial need of all its students. It does, however, offer financial aid to its students, which could include grants, scholarships, work-study, and student loans.

If you’re a future Nittany Lion, here’s what you need to know about how to pay for tuition and fees with Penn State financial aid.

Tuition and costs of attendance at Penn State

To prepare for the costs of college, you need to know what you’re dealing with. For the 2018-19 school year, Penn State University Park will charge the following:

Costs Pennsylvania residents Nonresidents
Tuition and fees $18,436 $33,664
Additional estimated costs $13,120 – $16,342 $13,120 – $16,342
Total $31,556 – $34,778 $46,784 – $50,006

The additional estimated costs include room and meals, which Penn State estimates at $11,280 for residents and nonresidents alike. They also include books, travel, and other personal expenses, which Penn State says will cost anywhere from $1,840 to $5,062.

Before those costs make you run and hide, remember that they’re just the sticker price. You might not have to pay full price, as you can get help from the school’s financial aid office and private scholarship organizations.

Your options for Penn State financial aid

Penn State can’t guarantee that your full financial need will be met, but it does claim that more than 73% of students receive financial aid and that undergraduates students receive a total of $995 million in aid from the following sources:

While more than half this aid comes in the form of student loans, Penn State also offers gift aid — or grants and scholarships you don’t have to pay back.

Let’s take a closer look at your options for gift aid before exploring how you can use student loans to fill any gaps.

1. Penn State grants and scholarships

Penn State offers a variety of scholarships. According to its financial aid office, 20% of undergraduates receive a scholarship and the average award is $2,500.

Scholarships are competitive, so not all students who are eligible will receive one. Here are some examples of Penn State scholarships, but make sure to check the official website for the full list:

Additionally, certain academic departments and campus organizations offer scholarships to students based on merit, leadership, or community service.

Some scholarships don’t require extra paperwork; you automatically will be considered based on your college application and Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Others have their own applications and deadlines. Make sure you track the details so you don’t miss out on money for college.

Pennsylvania residents also might also qualify for the Pennsylvania State Grant. This grant goes to students with financial need, and you must fill out a state grant form in addition to submitting the FAFSA (along with meeting other eligibility requirements). Award amounts vary depending on your family income.

2. Federal grants and work-study

Along with grants from Penn State and the state of Pennsylvania, students with financial need also might cover costs with federal grants and work-study.

In order to be eligible, you must submit the FAFSA, and your family’s income must meet federal guidelines. All federal grants and work-study are distributed based on financial need.

Here are some options for the 2018-19 school year:

  • Pell Grant: This grant gives as much as $6,095 to students with financial need.

  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant: This grant awards $100 to $4,000 to students with financial need.

  • Federal work-study: Work-study guarantees you a part-time, on-campus job for a predetermined number of hours per week.

Since some financial aid is distributed on a first-come, first-served basis, make sure you finish the FAFSA as soon as possible. The application opens every year on Oct. 1.

3. Private scholarships

In addition to submitting the FAFSA, you also might spend time applying for private college scholarships.

There are tons of opportunities out there, and organizations award scholarships for a variety of reasons. Academic merit, financial need, and community service are some common ones. Other organizations award money for more unusual reasons; for instance, there are scholarships for duck calling or making your prom dress out of Duck tape.

Check out online scholarship search tools to find opportunities across the country, and speak with your school counselor about local awards. Even though keeping up with applications can be a lot of work, your efforts could pay off in a major way.

4. Federal student loans

Once you’ve exhausted your options for gift aid, you might consider borrowing federal student loans to pay for college.

The federal government offers both need-based and non-need-based loans to qualifying students. You must submit the FAFSA to access them. These are your three main options:

  • Direct Subsidized Loans: The Department of Education pays interest on these loans while you’re in school. They come with a 5.05% interest rate and 1.066% origination fee.
  • Direct Unsubsidized Loans: Interest accrues on these loans from the date of disbursement. They have the same interest rate and origination fee as subsidized loans.
  • PLUS Loans: These loans for parents or graduate students have a 7.60% interest rate and a 4.264% origination fee and start accruing interest right away.

Federal student loans come with borrowing limits, though, so you might consider private student loans if you still have a gap in funding.

5. Private student loans

If you’re looking for additional funding, you could consider borrowing from a private lender — or from Penn State itself.

Penn State offers a loan to students with financial need. It comes with a 6.00% fixed interest rate and no origination fee. You automatically will be considered for this loan if you fill out the FAFSA.

Another option is to borrow a private student loan from a bank, credit union, or online lender. Because of underwriting requirements, you’ll likely have to apply with a cosigner, such as a parent.

Private loans come with different terms and conditions than federal loans, so make sure you understand the details before borrowing.

Use our student loan payment calculator to estimate the long-term costs of borrowing and get a sense of your monthly payment. That way, you’ll know what you’re getting into and can avoid taking on too much student debt.

Penn State installment payment plan

Although tuition payment plans won’t reduce the cost of tuition and fees, they can help by spreading out payments over the year.

Instead of paying in one lump sum at the beginning of the semester, you could make four payments over four months by enrolling in Penn State’s installment payment plan.

For the fall semester, you’d pay one-quarter of the cost on Aug. 27, Sept. 22, Oct. 22, and Nov. 22. For spring, you’d pay one-quarter in January (date TBD), on Feb. 22, on March 22, and on April 22. Summer students also can get on a tuition payment plan.

This approach could help if you need extra time to come up with the money for tuition. Just note that enrolling in this plan requires a $45 administrative fee.

Stay on top of deadlines for Penn State financial aid

Penn State is a world-class research university, but tuition doesn’t come cheap. To cover costs, make sure you track deadlines and requirements for Penn State financial aid.

Complete the FAFSA ASAP, and look for additional opportunities for scholarships and grants. You also might consider getting a part-time job as a college student to earn extra income.

Student loans also can be a useful tool for paying for your degree, but make sure you’re strategic about how much you borrow.

By taking advantage of all your options for Penn State financial aid, you can cover costs in a savvy way while avoiding burdensome student debt.

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