The College Series Pt. 5: Grants and Scholarships

Image credit: Allison Bertelson/Minneapolis Fed

Image credit: Allison Bertelson/Minneapolis Fed

Daevan Mangalmurti, Editor

Congratulations! You’ve made it partway through the admissions gauntlet, from college list to college application. It’s now time to ask the big question: if you get in, how are you going to pay? As we all know, going to any sort of college is an expensive proposition. No one wants to end up saddled with student loan debt, but nearly everybody is at risk. Here are a couple steps you can take to deal with the cost of college. 



The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is what determines your eligibility for a host of federal loans, scholarships (like the Pittsburgh Promise), and university financial aid packages. It opens October 1 and should be filled out immediately. The CSS profile is a College Board-offered service (meaning it costs money) that some colleges require. It serves the same function as the FAFSA. The CSS profile will likely be more useful than the FAFSA for undocumented students. 


The Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) offers state grants to students. Unlike loans, these do not need to be repaid. The PHEAA application opens on October 1. 

Pittsburgh Promise

The Pittsburgh Promise offers up to $5,000 per year scholarships to students with good grades and attendance who live in Pittsburgh and attend a PPS high school if they go to school in Pennsylvania or take classes at a school in Pennsylvania. The Promise requires that you fill out the FAFSA. We’ll go into greater detail about it in our next article.


Apply for scholarships! Scholarships open and close year-round, and a quick search will turn up legions of scholarships you might be eligible for. Independent scholarships can be small (a few hundred dollars) or huge (tens of thousands of dollars), but either type can add up and take a load off your shoulders when it comes to paying for school. Scholarships sometimes require transcripts, letters of recommendation, or test scores in addition to essays. Make sure you have all those materials ready when you apply. 

Financial Aid

Nearly all schools offer some sort of financial aid, whether merit- or need-based. Merit-based scholarships may be awarded right off the bat for good grades; the better your grades, the more you could receive. Some schools also offer large merit scholarships that require you to fill out separate applications and sit for interviews, but could result in a massive reduction in your college costs. Reach out to your school’s admissions office to ask about these. More selective schools with large endowments may no longer have merit scholarships, but they’re more than likely to have replaced it with need-based aid for all students who qualify, making college more affordable in the longer term. Some schools offer work-study arrangements to help you pay for school. All schools should have financial aid calculators on their websites. 


Federal student loans become available to students after they’ve completed their FAFSAs and are included in the financial aid statements colleges send to accepted students. These loans are far less likely to leave you deeply in debt than private loans as they usually come with terms beneficial to students.