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Part 5: How to Attend College Without Going into Too Much Debt

Applying for Scholarships

Last month, we shared how graduating within four years or less might help you save money and time and possibly reduce the amount of debt you incur in college. This month, ExploreHealthCareers provides information about scholarships and merit aid. It’s never too early to think about reducing your undergraduate debt while also thinking about how you might pay for graduate school.

This article includes a description of a program that helps graduate students continue their studies in a health professions program, such as medical school.

In Part 1: Know Your Actual Costs, we explained that the sticker price for college can be reduced significantly in some cases by institutional aid and scholarships. Here are a few strategies to keep in mind as you pursue these types of funding.

Be Strategic about Your College Scholarship Search

As you begin your search, you should think carefully and strategically about which scholarships you apply for and how many. Focus on finding scholarships that fit your interests, skills and abilities while also offering awards large enough to reduce your tuition by a beneficial amount. Applying for many scholarships that offer very small awards may not be worth the time it takes. Be sure to note the deadlines to receive applications and the deadlines by which you need to submit applications.

ExploreHealthCareers.org (EHC) includes a national database of over 300 sources of funding exclusively for health professions students. In addition to scholarships, EHC’s website includes loan forgiveness and loan repayment programs that involve service commitments and grants and fellowships to help pay for school. Using EHC’s funding database can help you save time by researching possible funding opportunities in one place on the Web.

Merit/Academic Scholarships

The first place to look for merit aid is at the school you want to attend. Awarded by the school as part of the financial aid package, institutional grants and scholarships are one type of aid that can significantly reduce the amount you have to borrow and pay back. These types of awards are reserved for the most academically competitive students whose grades, test scores and personal attributes make them more attractive to a particular college. Keep in mind that it can be more difficult to receive an academic scholarship at a highly competitive school. Schools typically offer their most generous scholarships to their more competitive applicants. Your chances of obtaining this type of scholarship may be greater at an institution where you are in that group of more competitive applicants.

At the insistence of her mom, who works in an admissions office, Christina Morales applied and was accepted to the Macaulay Honors College at The City University of New York (CUNY) at Hunter College. In addition to providing a comprehensive scholarship package (full undergraduate tuition excluding fees), the program provides accepted students with a new laptop, a grant of up to $7,500 to support global research and opportunities for service and internships. The program has its own advising office and students are assigned the same advisor for four years. Students must enroll in eight honors courses and maintain a 3.5 GPA to continue receiving the scholarship and benefits. There is a formal application process and admission is highly selective.

Christina graduated from the program this year with absolutely no debt.

National Health Service Corp Scholarship

Sarah Stephens always knew she wanted to become a pediatrician. During her senior year in high school, she had an amazing service experience on an Indian reservation. This exposure helped her make the commitment to join the National Health Service Corps.

The National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Scholarship Program awards scholarships to college graduates pursuing careers in primary care. The program is designed to address shortages in communities with limited access to care. Eligible disciplines include primary care physicians (M.D. and D.O.), dentists (D.D.S. or D.M.D.), family nurse practitioners, certified nurse-midwives and primary care physician assistants. The program covers a student’s tuition, required fees and educational costs, in addition to providing a monthly support stipend for a minimum of two years and a maximum of four years. For every year of scholarship funding, one year of service commitment is required.

NHSC scholarship recipients must fulfill their service requirements at an NHSC-approved site. These can include rural health clinics; hospital-affiliated, primary care outpatient clinics; private practices and other health facilities located in Health Professional Shortage Areas across the United States.

Because of her exposure to community service, Sarah was certain she wanted to pursue this career path before she enrolled in medical school. She says, “This is not a program for someone who is not positive about what they want to go into.” Once you make the commitment, you are required to fulfill the service requirement.

Sarah will graduate from undergraduate and medical school without any debt. Her parents started saving for her college education when she was very young, and the NHSC played a critical role in helping her graduate from medical school debt free. “If you want to go into primary care, this is the best kept secret in the world,” she notes.

How can you learn more about primary care and working with underserved populations? Volunteer at an urban or rural clinic in a Health Professional Shortage Area. Find a mentor who is passionate about providing care to the underserved. Ideally, the earlier you have these experiences the better. It will help you decide if a program like NHSC is right for you.

Plan Ahead for an Affordable Education

This article series provided several strategies to help reduce and possibly eliminate debt in college. ExploreHealthCareers wants you to be educated and informed about available choices for how to pay for college. A merit scholarship or service commitment scholarship can significantly reduce or even eliminate the need to take out loans. If you work hard, get good grades and strive to do your best, you will increase your chances of becoming eligible for scholarships.

The Expected Family Contribution (EFC) assumes that the college applicant’s family will pay something toward college tuition, and private scholarships cannot replace the EFC. The best way to make sure college is affordable is to save money well in advance. If you are eligible for need-based aid, keep in mind that outside scholarships at some schools often reduce your financial aid. To learn more, visit Fastweb.com.

Armed with the resources described in this series, you should be well on your way to a significantly smaller loan bill when you graduate or maybe even a debt-free education.

Part 1: Know Your Actual Costs

Part 2: Colleges with No-Loan Policies

Part 3: Unusual Sources of Funding

Part 4: Graduate Within Four Years or Less

Scholarship Resources

The College Scholarship Service (CSS) PROFILE is administered by the College Board’s financial aid division. Required by some private colleges and universities, the PROFILE form allows students to apply for non-federal financial aid at 400 private colleges and scholarship programs.

Finaid.org and Fastweb.com, published by noted financial aid expert Mark Kantrowitz, offer advice on financial aid and scholarship resources. Finaid.org provides free, comprehensive information about financial aid. Fastweb.com is a free scholarship matching service that includes information on 1.5 million scholarships worth over $3.4 billion.

My College Dollars is a Facebook application that uses information from a student’s profile to connect him or her to scholarship opportunities. The application was created in 2012 through a partnership of The College Board, MTV and Get Schooled.

A New York Times blog, The Choice, recently featured a high school senior who described his experience and method of researching and applying for colleges in Juggling ‘Too Many’ Scholarship Applications, and Learning to Let Go.