For low-income students, choosing the right college or university is often decided by how much money they will give us. We do not have the luxury of choosing a university in a favorable location or by enrollment size. Some of us can’t even choose the one that offers the best program for our major because it doesn’t grant us enough funding. We, low-income students, are faced with limitations when it comes to going to college.
And yes, scholarships are available, and their abundance does inspire us to apply to as many as possible. However, their competitive nature means not all students will receive a scholarship and therefore we cannot rely just on them. In other words, we need our government to keep funding education access for low-income students. Opportunities that come with programs like the Pell Grant.
What is the Pell Grant exactly?
The Pell Grant is a need-based grant awarded to undergraduate students who have not obtained a degree and demonstrate exceptional financial need. It has provided support for about 7 million students each year across 5,000 institutions in the U.S. However, its purchasing power has declined significantly over time. According to the Institute for College Access and Success, the Pell Grant only covers 30% of a college education when it covered about 80% in 1980.
As a Oaxacan low-income student raised in South Central LA and a personal recipient of the Pell Grant, I can vouch that receiving this aid was a significant help for covering my tuition at UC Berkeley during my first two years of college. I felt supported by this assistance and received an additional refund to cover my basic needs like food and housing. However, after my sophomore year, I noticed that my Pell Grant amount was declining as I reached senior year.
This is why we need to build awareness to #DoublePell because it can close the affordability gap for low-income students, leading to higher enrollment and an increase in retention rates. Education Policy Advisor Shelbe Klebs argues that the COVID-19 pandemic has made many students “rethink their post-secondary plans for fall; some may forgo college temporarily or permanently to work to support their families while others may choose to attend a more affordable community college close to home instead of a pricier four-year school farther away.”
Doubling the Pell Grant is the most effective way to make college affordable and available for all students. It can lead to more enrollment of low-income students of color, increase graduate school enrollments with more students pursuing higher education, decrease dropout rates, and restore its purchasing power.
Having this grant available made my college selection process easier because I could choose a good school with the financial aid package that was right for me. I am #ThankfulForPell because I was able to graduate from a 4-year university. By doubling the Pell Grant, I believe more students like me can have greater access to higher education, reach their potential and empower their communities.
Scholarships = free money! There are several scholarships to choose from: local, state, or nationwide scholarships. It is important to ensure that you are applying for all the scholarships available to you. Scholarships are a great way to pay for your turion or tuition related expenses. Books, technology, and even doing laundry on campus can get expensive. You should never pay for scholarship opportunities, be careful that you are not being scammed.
To learn more about scholarships and get access to scholarship opportunities, download this guide You Need to Know About Scholarships. Guide provided by DecidED
Applying for scholarships is tricky! Every scholarship is unique and asks for its own set of requirements. Not to mention, there are different types of scholarships! One thing to always remember is that scholarships are free money. You do not need to pay back a scholarship, it is not a loan! If you have questions about loans, click our previous post here. So let’s get started, how should we apply for scholarships?
SCHOLARSHIP SEARCH TIPS
- Ask for Recommendation Letters
- Have transcripts ready
- Search for local scholarships
- Find scholarships that fit you
- Use the ‘About Me’ Sheet in the PDF below to help brainstorm your characteristics
- Keep a ‘Progress Checklist’ which can also be found in the PDF
FREE MONEY: Outside Scholarship FAQs
What are “outside scholarships?” Private sources of financial aid.
How can I get one? Most require an application – separate from FAFSA – and essay(s).
Who gives them? Offered by national corporations/institutions, local businesses, community-based organizations, and private foundations.
When are they due? Deadlines vary by scholarship – check early and often during your college search process.
Where can I use them? Most can be applied to any school, but some can only be used for college(s) in a specific location (e.g. region, state)
Why should I care? Scholarships are an excellent supplemental source of aid to cover the remaining costs after financial aid from your school.
Now that we have the basics out of the way, let’s start preparing to apply!
Download this guide to help you apply for scholarships!
Scholarships are free money that you do not have to pay back. Scholarships are awarded based on grades, community service, major, class level, where you live, and more. The money that you are awarded can be used to pay for college tuition and other expenses.
Investing in yourself
Most scholarships have similar prompts, so you have the advantage of reworking the same essay for each application you submit. If a scholarship is worth $1,000 and you spend 10 hours writing an essay and submitting your scholarship application, it results in $100 per hour invested! Use the Scholarship Essay Worksheet to improve your essays and ability to receive multiple awards.
Use Immigrant Rising’s Scholarship Lists and additional scholarship databases to identify scholarships you are eligible to apply. Use the Scholarship Search Chart to list the ones you are eligible for, including deadlines, and create an action plan. Remember the more scholarships you apply for, the greater your chances to be awarded.
Immigrants Rising Scholarship Lists
Additional Scholarship Databases
Geneseo Migrant center
My Undocumented Life
Silicon Valley Community Foundation
The College Expo
According to Feeding America, food insecurity is “a federal measure of a household’s ability to provide enough food for every person in the household to have an active, healthy life.” Food insecurity is such a big issue for students because it can affect your test scores, concentration, energy, academic standing, and lowers your chances of graduating. In addition, food insecurity affects the most vulnerable students ex. students who receive financial aid, students who are parents/ caretakers, students with disabilities, LGBTQ+ students, first-generation students, BIPOC, and more.
Unfortunately, students who are facing food insecurity are not accessing all the public benefits they could. The food insecurity among college students can get worse because families are losing income, medical bills are piling up, and folks are being forced to tap-in to their savings. However there are college, local, state and federal resources for you as a student.
Below is a list of food banks/ pantries that are accessible to you and your family at no cost, because no student should go upon not knowing when their next meal will be.
To qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), you must make 120 total monthly payments while:
- Enrolled in an Income-Driven Repayment Plan
- Have Federal Direct Loans or have consolidated other federal student loans
- Working full-time for a government agency or certain types of nonprofit organizations
Before Graduating or Immediately Upon Graduation – check these eligibility requirements first and early on to plan for Public Service Loan Forgiveness:
- Check what kind of loan you have by logging in to www.StudentAid.gov.
- Confirm that you have a Federal Direct Loan that is not in default. This is the only federal loan that is eligible for PSLF.
- If some of your federal student loans are not Direct Loans (FFEL and Perkins Loan), they need to be consolidated to qualify; this is likely your situation if you borrowed before 2011. Payments on FFEL or Perkins Loans made before you consolidate will not be counted. Depending on your circumstance there may be pros and cons to consolidating in order to apply for PSLF.
As You Start Working in Public Service – Document Your Employment Using the PSLF Application Form:
- Submit a PSLF application form every year or when you change employers. You’ll want to have documented every qualified employer where you worked while you made a payment towards PSLF. Especially if you have multiple public service employers.
- Make sure that your PSLF application form has all required fields completed. Incomplete forms or inconsistencies may affect your eligibility. If you do not meet a PSLF qualification, the response letter to your application will provide more information.
- Make sure you have all the information required: employer’s address, Employer Identification Number (EIN) which can be found on your Wage and Tax Statement (W-2), and consistent info with your previous application.
As You’re Working in Public Service – Submitting your forms using the PSLF Help Tool:
- Log in with your FSA ID. The tool will import your loan info automatically.
- The Tool will ask a series of questions to confirm you’re on the right track to loan forgiveness and that your employer qualifies for PSLF.
- Find out if your loans qualify and options available to you if they don’t.
- Get a signature from an “authorized official” at your employer, typically someone in your human resources office.
- Print and mail your completed form. Save and archive your documentation (PSLF application, response letters from FedLoan Servicing, and employment documents) in case there are any discrepancies.
After Working at Least 10 Years in Public Service – Applying for PSLF and Getting Your Loan Forgiven:
- Upon making your 120th payment you’re ready to apply for PSLF. You must still be working for a qualified employer when you submit your application.
- Gather your current employer information and any documentation used to prove previous employers qualified while you made payments towards PSLF.
- Complete and submit the PSLF application by using the PSLF Help Tool (see above), by mail, or fax.
- If your PSLF application is approved, then all remaining balance including interest and outstanding principal will be forgiven. Any payments made after the required 120 will be refunded as well.
What Are Income-Driven Repayment Plans?
Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) can make monthly payments more affordable for borrowers with lower income. In an IDR Plan monthly payments are calculated as a percentage of ‘discretionary income’ based on income and family size. If your income increases while on an IDR plan, your payments can increase. Conversely, if you lose income perhaps due to losing your job, your monthly payment can be reduced to $0.00. After completion of an IDR Plan, any remaining debt may be forgiven. Below is a chart with how different IDR Plans monthly payments are calculated and an estimated timeline for the plan.
|Different IDR Plans
||How is my monthly payment calculated?
*percentage of “discretionary” income*
|How many years can I stay in the plan for?
*any remaining debt is forgiven after completing these timeframes*
|Revised Pay as You Earn (REPAYE)
|Pay as You Earn (PAYE)
|“New” Income-Based Repayment (IBR)
|Income Based Repayment (IBR)
|Income Contingent Repayment (ICR)
When Do I Sign Up For an Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) Plan?
After your 6-month grace period ends (when you leave your higher education program or graduate) you will automatically enter the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan. You can enroll in an IDR Plan at any time when you are paying off your student loans.
To remain in an IDR plan, you must recertify your income and family size with your servicer annually. If you don’t recertify by your specific deadline, your monthly payment will increase to the amount you would pay under the 10 year Standard Repayment Plan.
If you don’t recertify your income by the annual deadline any unpaid interest will be capitalized (added to the principal balance of your loans). This will increase the total cost of your loans over time because you will then pay interest on the increased loan principal balance.
Borrowers who fail to recertify can still reenter an IDR plan at any time. And, borrowers can recertify their income at any time if they need to adjust their payments due to loss of income or job.
What Happens If My Income Increases Under the Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) Plan?
If your income ever increases to the point that your calculated monthly payment amount would be more than the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan, you’ll remain on the IDR plan, but your payment will no longer be based on your income.
Instead, your required monthly payment will be the amount you would pay under the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan, based on the loan amount you owed when you first began repayment. Again IDR Plans are especially beneficial to borrowers who are lower-income or may have become unemployed.
FAFSA vs. Dream Act: What’s the Difference?
Money is one of the biggest deciding factors for incoming college students. Depending on how much aid students are able to receive, it then shifts what college they attend, how many semesters they will attend, how much they will loan, etc. Immigrant Rising’s FAFSA vs Dream Act info sheet gives a quick overview of the differences between FAFSA and the Dream Act as to what they are, who can apply, and the requirements for each. Below is some FAQ’s that can help you decide which aid to apply for!
Who is eligible?
- Legal Permanent Residents
- Eligible Non- Citizens (per FAFSA)
- T visa holders
DREAM Act AB 540/ SB 68 Eligible Students Who Are:
- Undocumented individuals;
- DACAmented individuals; and U visa holders
- TPS Protected Status
Who is NOT eligible?
- DACAmented students
- Undocumented individuals
- Any visa holder (except U)
- Legal Permanent Residents
- Eligible Non-Citizens (per FAFSA)
Requirements for Financial Aid to be Awarded:
- Department of Homeland Security and SocialSecurity Administration crosscheck student name, social security number, and birthdate to verify that all FAFSA eligibility requirements are met;
- All other eligibility for federal and state aid is met
- School verifies student meets AB 540/ SB 68
- Some schools may require a student’s AB 540/ SB 68 status to be approved prior to awarding state financial aid
- All other eligibility state aid is met
Requirements for Financial Aid to Be Released to Pay Outstanding Balances:
- Admission into an approved degree or certificate degree
- Minimum Unit requirements
- Satisfactory Academic Progress
Approval as AB 540/ SB 68 student and:
- Admission into an approved degree or
- Minimum Unit requirements
- Satisfactory Academic Progress
For more information visit FAFSA vs CA Dream Act – Apply to the Correct Financial Aid in CA!
For a student who is a citizen or legal permanent resident but whose parents are undocumented, you must follow specific steps to ensure you will be considered for federal aid through FAFSA.
- Paying Resident Fees at a CCC, CSU, or UC Submitting the FAFSA Application
- When students are financially dependent on their parent(s), Residency for Tuition Purposes in CCCs, CSUs, and UCs can be based on the residency of the parents when the student is under a specific age.
- However, students who are citizens, legal permanent residents, or eligible non-citizens but whose parents are undocumented should be classified as residents in most instances if their parents meet all other residency requirements for tuition purposes. Keep in mind that this is a complicated process and not all students are accurately classified.
- If you are classified as a non-resident but believe that you meet the residency requirements for tuition purposes in CA, contact the residency officer at your campus. If you are unable to resolve it at that level, contact the Chancellor’s Office of the CCC, CSU, or the President’s Office of the UC regarding their policy on residency for students who are U.S. citizens with undocumented parents.
- If you cannot be classified as a resident, check to see if you meet the eligibility for AB 540/SB 68 and submit the nonresident tuition exemption form (AB 540 affidavit), along with any required proof (transcripts).
- Being classified as a resident for tuition purposes or AB 540/SB 69 student is key to paying resident fees and being able to receive state-based financial aid.
- Submitting the FAFSA Application
- Students who are citizens, legal permanent residents, or eligible non-citizens, but whose parent(s) is/ are undocumented are eligible to submit the FAFSA application and receive federal financial aid.
- Students should apply at fafsa.ed.gov but should pay attention to these specific details if their parents are undocumented:
- Students should obtain their own FSA ID
- Parent(s) should include their information, if required
- Parents should be sure to use 000’s for the Social Security Number (SSN) if they do not have a valid SSN. They should not use an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN). The application will request confirmation if you use zeros. Say yes.
- Students should sign the FAFSA with their FSA ID and parents should “Print signature page” to sign the FAFSA because they cannot obtain an FSA ID
- Students should save one copy of the signature page and mail the other to FAFSA. It can take up to six weeks to process, so be sure to send it early!
- Students should check on www.fafsa.ed.gov to confirm that the parents signature has been received. The student’s FAFSA application cannot be processed until the parents signature is successfully added.
- Receiving Federal and State Financial Aid at a CCC, CSU, or UC
- Students who filled out the FAFSA but were admitted as non-residents usually do not see CA state financial aid in their original financial aid award–only federal financial aid. Once approval of their residency classification or AB 540 status is approved, students must contact the Financial Aid department to ensure that all state financial aid for which they are eligible is added to their financial aid award.