If you’re looking to become a teacher, it’s important to get the right education to begin-and continue-a successful career. In many cases, this means holding a least a bachelor’s degree, however having a master’s is increasingly becoming more common. In fact, across the United States, 40% of elementary and secondary teachers have bachelor’s degrees, while nearly 48% have a master’s. If you wish to teach at the college level or hold a role in administration, an education specialist or doctoral degree might also be necessary.
But getting this education comes at a cost-and often it’s not cheap. If you don’t have the money to pay your tuition up front, you’re certainly not alone. According to a study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), more than 84% of all college students received some sort of financial aid. These stats are no different for aspiring teachers. From federal student loans to scholarships and grants, there are many options available to help you pay for school. But understanding your options can be a bit confusing, so read on to learn more about ways to fund the education you need.
Financial Aid Basics for Education Students
Financial aid refers to any assistance given to help you pay for school. This can be in the form of loans, grants, scholarships, or work-study programs, and can come from the government, your school, or through private organizations.
How to find out what your degree will cost
Before you can determine how much assistance you’ll need, you need to figure out what your degree will cost. Every school is different, and tuition is influenced by many aspects including the location, prestige, and control of the institution. You’ll also need to consider factors such as room and board. Below are the average annual costs for undergraduate institutions, according to EducationData.org.
|Type of Institution||Average Yearly Tuition Only (no board, books)|
|4-year (Public, in-state)||$9,377|
|4-year (Private, Nonprofit)||$37,641|
*Based on the 2023 academic year
Most schools offer estimates of your cost of attendance along with an Expected Family Contribution (EFC) calculated based on factors such as family income and additional assets. You can subtract your EFC from the cost of attendance to determine your level of financial need.
To determine your need, you’ll first need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form takes into account factors like your income, assets, household size, and marital status. The result of the form helps both the government and your school decide on your eligibility for loans, grants, and work-study. Some private scholarship programs might also request the form.
In general, the FAFSA becomes available on October 1 of each year and must be submitted by June of the following year. However, many states and colleges have their own deadlines for the form, so it’s important to fill it out as soon as possible. Some student aid programs also have limited funds, so you can run the risk of missing out if you delay. To complete the FAFSA, you’ll need:
- Your Social Security Number
- Your Alien Registration Number (if not a U.S. citizen)
- Federal income tax returns, W-2s, and other records of money earned (plus your spouse’s tax returns, if you’re married)
- Bank statements and records of investments (if applicable)
- Records of any untaxed income (ex: interest, child support payments, etc.)
- An FSA ID to sign electronically
If you’re a dependent student, information on income and assets must come from your parents.
It’s also important to note that you’ll need to resubmit the FAFSA every year you wish you receive aid. Your financial situation and school enrollment can change, so an annual application is needed to determine your eligibility.
Do you have to pay back financial aid?
Whether or not you have to repay financial aid depends on the type you receive. Loans need to be repaid, though you might be able to take advantage of student loan forgiveness programs if you meet certain requirements.
Grants and scholarships are considered “gift aid” and generally don’t need to be repaid, but again, you must meet certain criteria. If you drop out of school, fail to reach merit requirements, or change your enrollment status-like going from full- to part-time-you might have to repay some or all of your funds.
Does being an adult student impact your financial aid options?
There’s no FAFSA age limit for applying for federal financial aid. Adult students still need to file the form and meet all eligibility requirements, just like any other student.
In most cases, any adult can receive some form of financial aid. The exception is if he or she has defaulted on loans from prior education. To be eligible for additional funds, any loans you currently have need to be in good standing. Unless you can repay the loan in full, getting out of default through loan rehabilitation or consolidation can take up to 10 months.
In some cases, you may be able to receive a scholarship or grant designed specifically for adult or returning students. Many are offered at the state level, while some popular national programs include:
- The Imagine America Scholarship
- The Unigo $10K Scholarship
- Jeannette Rankin Women’s Scholarship Fund
Can you get financial aid for graduate school?
Most of the same federal financial aid options are available to graduate students, though there are 3 primary exceptions. These include Direct Subsidized Loans, the Federal Pell Grant, and the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG). In most cases, these are only awarded to undergrad students, and the latter 2 require you to display exceptional financial need.
Federal Financial Aid Programs
You can find plenty of options at the state and local level that are both publicly and privately funded. These can be a bit more difficult to research, though you can explore your options through your state’s Department of Education or Higher Education Agency.
A far easier way to find aid is through the federal government by applying with the FAFSA. The U.S. Department of Education awards roughly $150 billion a year in financial aid.
Who is eligible?
Your eligibility for federal aid depends on the exact type of aid that you’re seeking. But in general, you must:
- Be a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen
- Have a valid Social Security or Alien Registration Number
- Have a high school diploma or GED, or a completion credential from homeschool
- Demonstrate financial need
- Be enrolled or accepted for enrollment in an eligible degree or certificate program
- Be enrolled at least half-time to receive Direct Loans
- Maintain satisfactory academic progress based on the standards of your school
- Be in good standing on any previous federal student loan or grant
For aspiring teachers who plan to work in a high-need field in a low-income area, the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant can award you up to $4,000 a year towards your education. High-need areas include:
- Bilingual education
- Foreign language
- Special education
- Any other field that’s been reported in the annual Teacher Shortage Area Nationwide Listing
To qualify, your program must be TEACH Grant-eligible as determined by your school. You must also meet certain academic requirements, which generally include scoring above the 75th percentile on an admissions test and maintaining a GPA of 3.25 or higher. The TEACH scholarship also requires that you work in the high-need, low-income area for at least 4 years within 8 years of completing your studies. If you fail to meet these requirements, your TEACH Grant will be turned into unsubsidized loans which you must then repay.
Pell Grants are typically only given to undergrad students, though in rare cases, they might be awarded to a student in a teacher certification program. The amount you receive depends on your Expected Family Contribution, the cost of attendance, and your status as a full- or part-time student. The amount awarded can also change each year but, as of the 2021-23 school year, the maximum annual award was $6,895.
For both undergraduate and graduate students, the Federal Work-Study program provides part-time jobs that allow them to cover some of the cost of school while they’re enrolled. Jobs can be on- or off-campus, and the U.S. Department of Education particularly encourages students to work in roles related to their course of study. You’ll earn at least the current federal minimum wage-$7.25 per hour-though you might make more depending on your state, your school, and the type of work you do.
Stafford Loans, also referred to as Direct Loans, are low-income federal loans given to students to help cover the cost of school. These loans are divided into 2 categories-subsidized and unsubsidized. You can only receive these if you’re enrolled at least half-time at a school that participates in the Direct Loan Program, and your school determines the amount that you’re eligible to receive.
Subsidized vs. unsubsidized loans
The difference between subsidized and unsubsidized loans involves 3 key factors–the type of student, the financial need, and the amount and payment of interest.
With subsidized loans:
- Only undergraduate students are eligible
- The amount you can borrow is based on your financial need
- The interest rate is 5.05% (as of 2019)
- The U.S. Department of Education pays the interest on your loan while you’re in school, for the first 6 months after, and during any period of deferment
With unsubsidized loans:
- Both undergraduate and graduate students are eligible
- There is no requirement to prove financial need and the amount you can borrow is based on tuition and any other aid you receive
- The interest rate is 6.6% (as of 2019)
- You’re required to pay the interest for all periods
However, there are limits on the amount of loans that you’re eligible to receive. As of 2020, the aggregate limits are as follows:
|Dependent Students||Independent Students|
No more than $23,000 can be in subsidized loans
No more than $23,000 can be subsidized loans
$138,500, including any loans received for ungraduated study
No more than $65,500 can be subsidized loans
The exception to these limits is for dependent students whose parents can’t obtain a PLUS Loan. In this event, dependent students can receive up to the same amount as independent undergrad students. You can read more on PLUS Loans below.
PLUS & Graduate PLUS Loans
PLUS Loans can help you cover any additional gaps in your financial aid. The Parent PLUS Loan is a loan taken out by the parent of a dependent undergrad student, while the Grad PLUS Loan is for graduate or professional students, all of whom are considered independent.
For both loans, the maximum amount awarded is the cost of attendance minus any other financial aid that you’ve received. As of 2023, both loans also have an interest rate of 7.54%, as well as a loan fee of just over 4% that’s deducted from each disbursement.
To be eligible for a PLUS Loan, you must:
- Meet the general requirements for federal financial aid
- Be enrolled at least half-time as a graduate or professional student, or be the parent of an undergrad student who’s enrolled at least half-time
- Not have adverse credit history
If you’re determined to have bad credit, you or your parent might still be able to take out a loan if you get an endorser who agrees to repay the loan if you can’t.
The Federal Perkins Loan Program was once another option for low-interest loans for undergrad and graduate students. However, in September 2017, the government ceased the program. If you currently have prior Perkins Loans and you’re attending school at least half-time, you have 9 months after you leave school to begin making repayments.
Scholarships & Grants for Education Students
There are literally thousands of grants and scholarships for education majors. Beyond loans, these are great ways to fund your schooling since you don’t have to pay them back. In general, grants are based on financial need while scholarships are based on merit. Merit-based awards might be given for academic or athletic achievements, employment status, particular interests, or unique contributions to a field. There are also many grants and scholarships for students based on factors such as gender, ethnicity, disability, religious affiliation, or military history.
The U.S. Department of Labor provides a free scholarship search tool that you can use to explore more than 8,000 options.
Aid available through your school
Many schools offer their own scholarships and grants for aspiring teachers. Every school is different, so you should contact your office of financial aid to find out what’s available.
There are countless private scholarships offered through businesses, nonprofits, communities, religious groups, and other organizations. The options can be a bit overwhelming, but there are 20 scholarships that are exceptional for future teachers. A few of these programs include:
- The AFCEA Educational Foundation STEM Teacher Graduate Scholarship
- The James Madison Memorial Fellowship Foundation
- The National Council of Teachers in Mathematics Prospective 7–12 Secondary Teacher Scholarship
- The PDK International Prospective Educator Scholarship
- The Nancy Larson Foundation College Scholarship
Unfortunately, there are many companies out there that’ll charge $1,000 or more to help you find financial aid. While this itself isn’t fraud, you need to ask yourself if it’s worth it. First, there are many free ways to research financial aid for yourself. What’s more, a company may promise to secure you a scholarship, but is that scholarship guaranteed to be more than the cost of the service? If you’re considering working with one of these companies, do your research and be sure that their claims aren’t too good to be true.
Furthermore, there are several websites that offer to help future students fill out the FAFSA for a fee. As the name suggests, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid should never cost you money. If you have questions or need additional assistance, online help centers or your school’s financial aid office should be able to give you the answers you need.
Private Student Loans
There are 2 primary types of student loans-federal and private. Federal loans are funded by the U.S. government and have benefits such as low, fixed interest rates and more lenient, income-based payment plans. Private loans, on the other hand, are distributed by institutions such as banks and credit unions. Unlike with federal loans, the conditions of private loans are not laid out by law, so you’re beholden to the terms of the lender. In general, you should only seek private loans if federal financial aid, grants, scholarships, and other awards still can’t help you cover the cost of tuition.
Use the chart below to learn more about the similarities and differences between these loans.
|Federal Loans||Private Loans|
|Payments aren’t due until after you leave school||Many require you to begin making payments while you’re still in school|
|Interest rates are low and are fixed for the lifetime of the loan||Interest rates could be higher or lower than federal loans and may or may not be fixed|
|You may be eligible for unsubsidized loans where the government pays your interest while you’re in school||You’ll most likely be responsible for all of your interest|
|Except for PLUS Loans, a credit check is not required||You’ll likely need a good credit history or a cosigner on your loan|
|You may be able to deduct loan interest from your taxes||You may be able to deduct loan interest from your taxes|
|Loans can be consolidated to make monthly payments easier||Loans can’t be consolidated but can possibly be refinanced|
|You might be able to temporarily lower or postpone your payments||You may or may not be able to lower or postpone your loan|
|There’s no penalty for paying off your loans early||You may or may not get hit with a prepayment penalty for paying off your loan early|
|You might be eligible for loan forgiveness if you meet certain criteria||Loan forgiveness isn’t offered through the lender|
Student Loan Forgiveness
Earning your degree can be expensive, but there are options to help you relieve some of that debt. While loan forgiveness is by no means guaranteed, it can be likely if you meet certain requirements. There are 2 main loan forgiveness programs through the Department of Education-the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program and the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program. In addition, some states offer their own loan forgiveness plans with their own criteria.
Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF)
Under the PSLF, you can relieve a portion of your loans if you:
- Work full-time for a government agency, a nonprofit organization with tax-exempt status, or a nonexempt nonprofit that provides a qualifying public service
- Have Direct Loans-subsidized, unsubsidized, or PLUSA-or consolidate other federal loans
- Make at least 120 (10 years) of qualifying payments on an income-based repayment plan
Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program
The U.S. government has also designed a loan forgiveness program specifically for teachers. You can be eligible to receive forgiveness of up to $17,500 if you:
- Have at least a bachelor’s degree
- Hold your full state certification as a teacher
- Have taught math or science full-time for 5 complete and consecutive years in a low-income secondary school, or
- Have worked in special education full-time for 5 complete and consecutive years in a low-income elementary or secondary school
If you don’t teach math, science, or special education, you can qualify for up to $5,000 of loan forgiveness if you’ve taught any other subject for 5 years in a low-income elementary school, secondary school, or educational agency.
Furthermore, teachers can potentially receive forgiveness under both the PSLF and the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program, however not for the same period. Any repayments you make on Direct Loans during the qualifying 5 years of teaching experience cannot be applied to toward the 120 payments required by the PSLF.
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