Financial Aid 101

You want to go back to school, to earn a certificate that will help you pursue an engaging and fulfilling career. But you’re looking at the tuition cost and wondering how you’ll afford it. You don’t want to go deep into debt, making it difficult to afford rent, food, and other necessities once you start your career1.

Fortunately, financial aid can help you pay for school. Multiple types of aid are available, depending on your financial situation and level of need. Some types of aid are merit-based, too. Get the full details on financial aid and find out how it can help make a career certificate program affordable for you.

How Does Financial Aid Work?

The goal of financial aid is to make post-secondary education affordable. Financial aid can work in several ways. Some types of aid reward you for earning high grades or for excelling in your field of study. Other types of aid are designed for people who have lower incomes and who might have difficulty paying for a certificate or degree program out-of-pocket.

To apply for federal student aid, you need to complete the  Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA determines how much you and your family need to pay toward school and the types of aid you’re eligible to receive. In addition to the FAFSA, your school might have its own financial aid application or checklist to complete.

Along with federal financial aid, some private companies and financial institutions also offer aid. A business might make scholarships available to the family members of employees, for instance. Banks and credit unions often offer their own form of student loans. Usually, private scholarships and loans have their own application process.

Types of Financial Aid

Several types of financial aid are available. The type of aid your school offers you depends on your level of need and other factors, such as your high school GPA.

Some aid types, such as scholarships and grants, go directly toward paying for your education and don’t have to be paid back by you. A notable difference between a grant and a scholarship is that grants are typically need-based while scholarships are often merit-based. Some scholarships might also be need and merit-based.

Work-study is another example of financial aid. Your school might have job opportunities for students that help them pay for their education. For example, you might get a job in the campus bookstore or admissions office. Depending on the size of your work-study award, you might be able to work a lot during the school year or your hours might be limited.

The most infamous type of financial aid is student loans. How is a student loan different from a scholarship? A notable difference is that you need to pay the loan back, with interest, after you leave school or graduate.

Depending on the cost of your program and the aid you qualify for, it’s possible to go to school and earn a certificate without having to borrow money. Some people choose programs with the goal of avoiding going into debt.

Do You Have to Pay Back Financial Aid?

While you do have to pay back student loans, other types of aid usually don’t have to be repaid. Grants, scholarships, and work-study aid usually don’t require repayment.

There are exceptions, though2. For example, if you receive a grant, then leave school early, you might have to repay some of it. You might also have to repay a grant if a service obligation was attached to it. Some grants awarded to aspiring teachers usually require a person to teach in a certain area for a designated period after graduation.

What Can You Use Student Loans For?

Usually, you can use student loans and other types of financial aid to pay for any costs associated with going to school. Typically, your school will receive the aid money from the federal government or a private lender. It will use the funds to pay your tuition and other fees.

If there’s any aid left over, it will send you the balance. You can use the funds to pay your rent, for textbooks, and for transportation to and from campus.

Why Apply for Financial Aid?

The biggest reason to apply for financial aid is that doing so can put a post-secondary education within reach. Getting the aid you need to pay for school also allows you to start a new career and improve your life overall. The financial aid offices at Orange Technical College have the information you need to apply for aid and to learn more about your aid options. Get in touch today to learn more about how to pay for school.


  1. Deeper in Debt: Women & Student Loans, AAUW,
  2. Types of Financial Aid, Federal Student Aid,