In the world of financial aid there are many different forms of assistance available to students and each serves a slightly different purpose than the other. Many students assume that words like scholarship, grant, fellowship, internship, and student loan are interchangeable. They are not, however, and the consequences of misunderstanding which form of financial aid you are looking for or receiving can be far reaching. For each variety of assistance there are different tax stipulations, service requirements, and repayment expectations attached. Any student on the hunt for financial aid should know what he’s looking for, what he’s found, what the award requires and how it will help him achieve his college goals.
Most scholarships are financial awards given to eligible students with no strings attached. Typically, if you win a standard scholarship, unless it is renewable, your interaction with the donor ends the day you receive your check. According to the IRS, if you are not pursuing a degree, the entire scholarship is taxable. For those students using the scholarship for college, any portion used for tuition, fees, books, and supplies is not taxable. Any funds remaining after your expenses are paid for, however, are subject to tax. There is not typically a service requirement or other stipulation attached to the scholarship upon receipt of the award, however, you should check to be certain. Scholarships are offered in many varieties—sweepstakes, essays, competitions—for traditional and non-traditional students alike. Occasionally scholarships require that you do a specified amount of community service after receiving the award.
Like scholarships grants are a cash award that does not need to be repaid. There are federal grants, state grants, and grants issued by private businesses and organizations. Many undergraduate students greatly depend on government grants to get them through college. Why shouldn’t they? As long as students qualify financially, all they need to do is fill out a FAFSA. Aside from the government sponsored grant program, most grants are awarded to graduate students who need help funding research or who intent to enter a specific field. Grant amounts range greatly. They may be $100, $100,000, etc. Graduate school grants are not typically used toward tuition, but rather, they are usually used for any expenses necessary to complete your research.
Fellowships are typically awarded to pursuers of graduate or doctoral degrees. Although providers don’t seek repayment, they will frequently ask that students perform research work as a part of the deal. The work may be tedious, but it is usually worth the effort; it is not uncommon for stipends, in addition to tuition coverage, to be a part of the fellowship package. Fellowships tend to be lucrative, and they can get pretty competitive. Students who demonstrate exceptional merit are usually the top runners.
Most students know the difference between a scholarship and an internship, however, for those that need clarification an internship is an opportunity to work within a business or organization that you would otherwise need a degree to hold a position in. While some internships offer monthly stipends for students participating in their programs, others are unpaid. There are many professions that require students to have participated in an internship program before they can be hired as an employee. It’s a good idea to find out how most professionals in your field of interest secured a position in their field because you will likely discover that without the help of an internship most would not be where they are today. When you are considering an internship there are several things to think about before you accept a position. Ask yourself: How will it help me? What is the time commitment? Is there a stipend? And of course, is there a possibility for employment after the internship?
Believe it or not, student loans qualify as financial assistance; however, loans are a form of low-interest debt that must eventually be repaid. There is a limit to how much financial assistance a student can receive from student loans which is usually determined by how great the financial need of the student is. For the students who do not qualify for a need-based grant but do not have enough cash to pay for tuition, student loans are a good option. An added benefit is that most loans do not begin accumulating interest until 6 to 12 months after you graduate and monthly payments are also delayed until then.