Vermont has historically had one of the highest student loan debt averages in the nation with the average borrower from the Class of 2017 having $29,656 at graduation. Yet Vermont students don’t necessarily have to rely entirely on student loans to finance their education.
Along with federal and state loans, ample scholarship and grant programs are available in Vermont. With the latter, the money doesn’t have to be repaid, so it can be a good way for students to pay for their education without the fear of debt. Grant and scholarships are very competitive, however.
Getting Financial Aid for College
All students requiring financial aid should first complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This can be submitted as early as October 1st, and it’s important to do it as soon as possible because certain school awards are provided on a first-come, first-serve basis. Even if you don’t think you’ll qualify for financial aid, it’s important to complete the FAFSA.
The information on the FAFSA can be used for other purposes aside from federal student loans. For example, colleges and universities use it to determine grant, scholarship, and work-study eligibility. You may not be seeking federal or state student aid, but if you want to apply for certain gift aid programs, you will need to file the FAFSA.
Once you complete the FAFSA, you receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) from the Department of Education. This provides a summary of what was on your FAFSA and estimates what your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) will be. If your EFC is lower than the cost of attendance at the college you plan to attend, you will probably qualify for financial aid. The cost of attendance for a school is based on tuition, living expenses, books, and other fees.
Vermont Student Loans
While most people automatically think about federal or private student loans when applying for aid, many states have their own programs. The amounts available may be lower than federal loans and the interest rates may be higher, but this isn’t always the case. Sometimes the state can offer higher loan amounts than the federal government.
Vermont Advantage Loan
One option is the Vermont Advantage Loan from the nonprofit Vermont Student Assistance Corp. This loan covers education costs for both Vermont residents as well as students who plan to go to Vermont for college. The fixed-rate loans are available with APRs are low as 5.9%.
Vermont Federal Credit Union
There are also state private loan options in Vermont. It’s important for students to be cautious with private student loans because they have fewer protections and repayment options. The Vermont Federal Credit Union offers financing options for students. There are fixed and variable rate loans, flexible repayment terms and graduated repayment options. Lines of credit of up to $50,000 are available.
Vermont Educational Loan Forgiveness Program
Another state program in Vermont is called the Vermont Educational Loan Forgiveness Program for Health Care Professionals. Under the Vermont Educational Loan Program for Primary Care Practitioners, loans of up to $20,000 a year are available. Recipients have to be studying certain health care disciplines to be eligible. There are also other loan forgiveness programs for different fields of study and careers outside of health care.
Vermont College Scholarships
Scholarships are considered gift aid, so they don’t have to be repaid. Scholarships are most often awarded based on merit, such as academic performance or athletic ability. There are private scholarships available and awarded through private organizations, nonprofits and families, and individuals.
Research and apply for as many as you are eligible for. It does take time to do the research, but it can be a great way to minimize your student loan debt.
Students can look at online databases for scholarships and they can also contact their college or university. If a student’s parents are affiliated with any organization, including their employer, students can check whether they offer scholarships as well.
The following are a few examples of scholarships available to Vermont students.
- The Community College of Vermont Incentive Scholarship has an open deadline, and award amounts up to $2,000. This scholarship is for full-time undergraduate students who are transferring from Community College of Vermont to the College of St. Joseph. Applicants need at least a 2.0 GPA.
- The Jean Andrews Nursing Scholarship is an award for residents of Addison County who are undergraduate or graduate students enrolled at an accredited School of Nursing. Applicants must demonstrate financial need and write an essay. The award amount is $1,200 and the deadline for applying is May 1st.
- The Green Mountain College Student Assistance Fund Scholarship is for undergraduate or graduate students enrolled at Green Mountain College. Deadlines and awards vary.
- The Agnes M. Lindsay Trust Scholarship is an award of up to $10,000, and it’s open to residents of rural New England Towns who are full-time undergraduate students at the College St. Joseph. It’s need-based and there is no deadline.
- The Vermont Police Association offers a variety of scholarships with award amounts of around $1,000. These are open to Vermont residents and students must demonstrate financial need. The application deadline is April 20th.
Vermont Grants for College
Grants are also gift aid that doesn’t have to be repaid. Unlike scholarships, they are almost always need-based rather than merit-based, although some scholarships are need-based as well. Vermont grants for college include:
- The New England Heritage Scholarship Grant is available to residents of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island or Vermont who are attending Marietta College in Ohio. The award amount is $5,000 and the deadline to apply is March 1st.
- The Vermont Incentive Grant is awarded to Vermont students planning to pursue a full-time college program that will lead to a bachelor’s degree. Recipients have to show financial need and grants range from $700 to $11,200. Applicants complete the FAFSA form and grant application to apply.
- The Vermont Part-Time Grant is for Vermont students who are pursuing a degree on a part-time basis and taking fewer than 12 credit hours. Applicants must demonstrate need and complete the FAFSA.
- The Vermont Non-Degree Grant is for students who are going to a technical or vocational school. The award amount is determined on a yearly basis.
In addition to those specific Vermont grants, there are also grants from individual colleges and universities available. Federal grant programs are options as well.
It’s important for students in Vermont to spend time researching all options. Scholarships and grants are an excellent way to make up gaps in funding without increasing student loan debt, but it does take work to find them and apply.
Being proactive can help Vermont students find the best opportunities outside of federal, state, or private student loans. For most students, private student loans are the last option after they’ve exhausted all other possible funding sources because they have the most restrictive repayment terms.