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College Budgets & Borrowing
When finalizing your financial aid, it's important to borrow responsibly. Research all your options and make an informed decision. Learn more.


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Financial Aid

A college education is one of the largest financial investments you'll make for your future. You have a lot of options when it comes to choosing a program and a school that's right for you, all of which cost some money and most of which cost a lot. Fortunately, you also have several options when it comes to managing your financial commitment.

The money you spend now is an investment.

According to a report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW), adults with a bachelor’s degree earn an average of $2.8 million during their careers, $1.2 million more than the median for workers with a high school diploma. With costs rising yearly, a semester of college costs less now than it will later on.

Financial Aid Process

Set Your Budget

Based on your intended career or program of study, set your budget for college. Research your career's starting salary and understand that if you have to borrow to cover college costs, your borrowing should not exceed your first year's starting salary. Determine the amount of money you have available from savings and investments that can go toward college over the next two to four years. This savings can reduce your borrowing amount and provide flexibility in the schools that you can afford to attend. Estimate your costs by looking at NET price at each Iowa college and university.

Types of Financial Aid

Financial aid is grants, scholarships, work-study and/or federal loans you qualify for. To apply for aid, you'll need to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and submit it to the U.S. Department of Education. The FAFSA is a free form that may be completed without professional assistance via paper or electronic forms provided by the U.S. Department of Education. If you need help, ICAN offers no cost assistance.

  • Grants are given by the government, schools or organizations to help you pay for college. Grants do not need to be repaid and are usually given based on financial need. Grants are awarded as part of your overall financial aid package.
  • Scholarships also don't need to be repaid and are usually given based on financial need or merit (meaning you've earned it by being a good student, a good athlete or meeting some other qualification). Scholarships are awarded by private donors or schools.
  • Work-Study involves a part-time job, usually on campus, so you earn a paycheck (usually to cover personal expenses) while attending school. Work-study jobs are awarded as part of your overall financial aid package, but you'll need to check the available openings and apply for jobs.
  • Student loans must be repaid (with interest) and are often used to cover expenses that can't be paid for in other ways. Many college loans are set up so you don't need to begin making payments until after you graduate.

Get an FSA ID

Get an FSA ID from the U.S. Department of Education. An FSA ID, or Federal Student Aid Identification, can be used to electronically file, sign and update the FAFSA form. You can also use your FSA ID to check the status of your application online.

Apply for Financial Aid

There are four primary sources to apply for financial aid.

  • Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and submit it. 
  • Scholarships and Grants. Scholarships and grants do not need to be repaid. Apply for as many as you qualify for at both the college level, and through private organizations.
    • State of Iowa Scholarships and Grants
    • College/University Scholarships and Grants
    • Private Scholarship/Grant Programs

Compare Financial Aid Packages

Review offers from different schools to understand and compare the different financial aid packages. Use your college budget from step one to determine if a college package is affordable for your future plans. Use your estimated starting salary as your borrowing limit for your entire degree. Learn about financial aid packages and the review process.

Ask for Advice

Make an appointment with a financial aid officer or with an ICAN advisor to discuss your situation.

  • Ask questions about the aid offered.
  • Discuss special circumstances.
  • Talk about developing a plan to cover costs
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