Financing College

How to Pay for College in Arizona

For most people, heading off to college is a great move to ensure your future well-being, but at what cost? From tuition, to room and board, to textbooks and more, the price tag of attending college has been going up for many years. In fact, according to the Arizona Students’ Association, the total cost of attendance has risen 63 percent over the last three years. And it doesn’t help knowing Arizona is ranked 46th in the country for state-funded financial aid. Despite these challenges, there are a number of ways for Arizonans to find the money they need to help pay for college.

What are the different kinds of financial aid?

Financial aid comes in many forms, from student loans, which must be paid back, to grants and scholarships that don’t have to:

  • Grants. Funds awarded to need-based students who meet certain criteria.
  • Loans. Money borrowed from banks, organizations or government institutions.
  • Scholarships. Money given to students based on merit, academics, achievement, or financial need.
  • Work Study. Paid part-time jobs granted to students as part of a federal financial-aid, need-based program.
  • Other Means. Programs such as Veteran’s benefits, Tribal aid, college savings plans, and more.

Go for scholarships before student loans.

Financially speaking, free scholarship money is always better than a loan. So when you’re reviewing your options, always apply for scholarships and grants first—but by no means rule out any loans that might make sense as part of your overall funding strategy. As the Huffington Post points out, a college degree can be one of the few good reasons to borrow money. And you can often find some pretty good loan deals with low interest rates and other benefits through the Federal Loan Program, such as the Perkins Loan or the Stafford Loan.

Financial aid specifically for Arizona residents.

There are a number of college grants and scholarships for Arizona students, from a variety of resources. One of them is the Arizona Commission for Postsecondary Education (ACPE), which offers many different grant and scholarship programs. Below are just some of the programs ACPE offers:

  • LEAP Grant. Available for undergraduate students only, the Arizona Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership (LEAP) Grant provides up to $2,500 worth of financial aid to low-income students.
  • SLEAP Grant. Related to the LEAP program, the Arizona Special Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership (SLEAP) Grant provides up to $2,000 to sophomore, junior, or senior undergraduates pursuing degrees related to science, technology, engineering, or mathematics.
  • PFAP Grant. To help community college graduates transfer to private four-year colleges, the Private Postsecondary Education Student Assistance (PFAP) Grant awards up to $2,000 per year, for up to two years, based on financial need.
  • MSSE Grant. Based on financial need, the Math, Science, and Special Education Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program (MSSE) requires junior and senior college students to enter the public-teaching profession in Arizona after graduation in exchange for a forgivable loan of $7,000 per academic year for up to three years.

Save for it.

Another way to protect your pocketbook from the sticker shock of going to college is to plan ahead and save. But there’s a better method than socking it away in your standard savings account. State-operated education savings plans called 529 Plans, named after the Internal Revenue Code that created them in 1996, give families special tax benefits while they save for college. The Arizona Family College Savings Program is the 529 college savings program sponsored by the State of Arizona, its benefits far surpasses those of a regular savings account:

  • Tax-deferred earnings
  • Federal income and Arizona state tax-free qualified distributions
  • Professional money management
  • Wide range of investment choices
  • No income restrictions
  • Assets are excluded when determining financial-aid awards
  • Tax incentive for Arizona residents

Whether you’re saving for college, applying for scholarships or grants, or looking to borrow money with a student loan, there are many good strategies that can ease the financial burden of attending college. You owe it to yourself to research the best options for you, and take advantage of the assistance available for Arizona students.