Welcome to my resource center for college student assistance. Below, you will find some common questions and answers about paying for college. If you need additional assistance, please contact my Rockville office at 301-424-3501.
What steps should I take to prepare myself or my child for college?
The Department of Education has compiled a College Preparation Checklist that explains how to prepare academically and financially for college through "to do" lists aimed at elementary and secondary school students and their parents, as well as adult students.
What assistance is available from the federal government?
The federal government offers grants, subsidized loans, and campus-based aid.
Grants (Financial aid that does not need to be repaid):
- Pell Grant: Pell grants are awarded to undergraduate students who have not earned a bachelor’s or professional degree. The maximum Pell Grant scholarship for the 2009-2010 year will be $5,350 and the maximum scholarship for 2010-2011 will be $5,550.
- TEACH Grants: TEACH grants were created by the College Cost Reduction and Access Act to provide upfront tuition assistance to undergraduate students who commit to teaching in public schools in high-poverty communities and high-need subject areas. Undergraduates can qualify for $4,000 a year, with a maximum of $16,000 over four years. Graduate students can receive a maximum of $8,000 over two years.
- National SMART Grant: These grants are available to undergraduates in their third, fourth, or fifth years of study who are majoring in physical, life, or computer sciences, mathematics, technology, engineering, or critical foreign language. The undergraduate must be eligible for the Federal Pell Grant, enrolled in the courses necessary to complete the degree program, and maintain a cumulative grade point average of at least 3.0 in course work within the major. A student may receive up to $4,000 for each year.
Loans (Financial aid that must be repaid with interest):
- Stafford Loans: As a result of the College Cost Reduction and Access Act, the interest rate on new subsidized Stafford Loans for undergraduates dropped to 5.6% on July 1, 2009. These loans are awarded based on financial need. The government will pay the interest on the loan when the student is in school and for the first six months after graduation.
Unsubsidized Stafford Loans for undergraduates have a rate of 6.8%. The student must pay the interest from the time the loan is disbursed until it is paid in full. The student can choose to pay the interest or allow it to accumulate and be added to the principal amount of the loan.
- PLUS Loans for Parents: Parents can borrow a PLUS loan to pay for expenses for dependent undergraduate students enrolled at least half time in an eligible program at an eligible school. The loans are available through the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) and Direct Loan programs and parents must choose one program, not both, to use. For a Direct PLUS Loan, parents must complete a loan application and promissory note, found at the school’s financial aid office. For a FFEL PLUS Loan, parents must complete a PLUS loan application, available from the school, lender, or state guaranty agency. The yearly limit of a PLUS loan is equal to the cost of attendance at the school minus any other financial aid the student receives.
- PLUS Loans for Graduate and Professional Degree Students: Graduate and professional degree students may borrow under the PLUS loan program with a limit of cost of attendance at their school minus any other financial assistance they receive. They must have a good credit history and be able to begin repayment on the date of the last disbursement of the loan. The PLUS loan has a fixed interest rate of 8.5% in the FFEL program and 7.9% in the Direct Loan program. Applicants must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and must have applied for their maximum loan eligibility under the Federal Subsidized and Unsubsidized Stafford Loan Program.
- Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants: Undergraduates with exceptional financial need can receive between $100 and $4,000 a year with these grants. The school will credit the student’s account or pay the student directly at least once per term or twice per academic year.
- Federal Work Study: Undergraduate and graduate students can complete part-time jobs with an hourly wage either on campus or through a private non-profit or public agency. The school will pay the student directly, at least monthly. Wages for the program must meet at least the current federal minimum wage, but the student cannot exceed the total Federal Work Study award. The job should be relevant to the student’s course of study or provide a service to the community.
- Federal Perkins Loans: Perkins Loans are made through the school’s financial aid office. The school lends government funds to the student, and the student repays the loan to the school. The school may pay the student directly by check or apply the loan to the student’s account. A student may borrow up to $5,500 for each year of undergraduate study, up to a total of $27,500. A graduate student may borrow up to $8,000 per year, up to a total of $60,000 (including any Perkins funds borrowed as an undergraduate).
How do I apply?
You must fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for aid from the federal government, your state, and your school. You will need your Social Security Number, driver’s license, income tax returns, bank statements, and investment records. The Higher Education Opportunity Act, signed into law on August 14, 2008, includes provisions to simplify the FAFSA.
When should I apply?
The earliest date that you can submit a FAFSA is January 1stof each year. You should apply early to ensure you meet the deadlines for state, school, and private aid. To be considered for Maryland state grants, you must apply by March 1st. Check with your school to find its individual deadline.
What are the benefits of federal loans?
Federal student loans offer more benefits than most private loans, including low fixed interest rates, favorable repayment terms, and loan forgiveness and deferment options. Currently, the interest rate on subsidized federal Stafford Loans is 5.6% and will continue to drop over the next few years to 4.5% for loans disbursed between July 1, 2010 and June 30, 2011 and to 3.4% for loans disbursed on or after July 1, 2011. In contrast, the interest rates for private loans can run as high as 19% and may have variable rates.
How can I pay back my federal loans?
You can get information on loan repayment here.
Additionally, the federal government offers loan forgiveness and income-based repayment programs.
- Loan Forgiveness for Public Service Workers: The College Cost Reduction and Access Act established a new loan forgiveness program for graduates who pursue public service careers, including teachers, public defenders and prosecutors, firefighters, nurses, and non-profit workers. Only loans under the Direct Loan program are eligible for forgiveness, so graduates with other kinds of federal loans should consolidate into a Direct Consolidation Loan. Once a graduate has made 120 payments on the Direct Loan or Direct Consolidation Loan while working full time in a public service career, the remaining balance on the loan will be forgiven.
- Other Loan Forgiveness/Cancellation Options:
- Income-Based Repayment Program: On July 1, 2009, a new Income-Based Repayment Program went into effect that would cap borrowers’ monthly loan payments at 15% of their discretionary income (15% of earnings above 150% of the poverty level for their family size). Any current or future borrower with federal loans is eligible. After 25 years in the program, borrowers’ debts are forgiven.
Who do I contact if I am having a problem with a federal loan?
The Department of Education offers resources to assist you when you are having a problem with your loan. First, you can identify your problem and pursue assistance here. You can also contact your loan servicer. If you do not know who is servicing your loan, call 1-800-4-FED-AID. You can find tips for dealing with your loan servicer here.
If you are unable to resolve your problem, you can contact the Department of Education’s Office of the Ombudsman at 1-877-557-2575 or by submitting an online form.
Before you call, please be sure to have all your loan documents ready. A documents checklist is available here.
If your problems persist, please call my Rockville office at 301-424-3501.
What kind of assistance is available from the State of Maryland?
Maryland offers need-based grants, merit-based scholarships, and career-based scholarships. You can find more information about the programs and application processes at the Maryland Higher Education Commission. Additionally, some members of the State Legislature are able to provide some scholarship money. You should contact your representatives in the State Senate and House of Delegates directly to determine what scholarships are available this year. If you do not know your state representative, you can find them at MDElect.net.
Where can I find information about other scholarships?
Targeted aid is also available for certain groups: