Paying for Your Education

Numerous financial assistance programs are available to help you meet educational expenses. Most fall into two major categories: "gifts" or grants and self-help programs. Gifts, grants, and scholarships are financial aid for which you will probably not incur any indebtedness or future obligation. Self-help is aid you either earn while you are in school, as in the case of a college work-study program, or repay when your education is completed, as with a student loan. (For most federal loans, you have a six-month "grace period" after your education is complete before interest begins to accrue and payments begin.)

Organizations that make these funds available include federal and state governments, private industry, the military, and social or service organizations at the community level. Eligibility for funding is usually determined on the basis of your financial need and/or your academic merit for an award. Other requirements can be considered and may be the determining factor in programs sponsored by private industry or social organizations. You need to contact any private donor directly to find out specifics of eligibility.

Financial Aid

The aid most readily available at post-secondary institutions in New Mexico is federal and state undergraduate grants, low-interest loans, and work-study programs. To be eligible, you must (1) apply for the type of assistance you desire, and (2) qualify for the assistance you requested. You may also have to satisfy a citizenship requirement; for example, if you are on a student visa or an exchange visitor visa, you cannot get federal student aid.

All New Mexico public post-secondary institutions use the Free Application for Federal Student Aid for federal and state programs. The private institutions may also require additional family asset information to determine your eligibility for federal and state programs. The resulting Student Aid Report provides each institution with the financial information necessary to determine your eligibility. If you are under the age of 24, the federal government considers you a dependent and will require parental information to determine your eligibility. However, consideration for independent status can be requested at each institution. Scholarship applications are different for each institution and should be requested early in the year to ensure proper consideration. Deadlines for scholarships are usually between February 1 and April 1.

Need Analysis

The end result of the information you supply is a need analysis. The need analysis compares the costs of attending a given institution with your ability to meet those costs. If the costs to attend are higher than the amount that you and/or your family can afford, you are eligible for the difference in financial aid. For example, you are recommended for a larger award if you apply to a more expensive school since the dollar amount that you and/or your parents can contribute to your education is the same no matter how expensive the school.

Planning Early

It is important to begin planning early. The preference deadline for financial aid applications from entering students is March 1 of each academic year for New Mexico schools. If you plan to enter a college, university, or other post-secondary institution in August, submit your financial aid application in February to receive maximum consideration for funding. If you wish to attend a school out of state, contact that school for information concerning application and eligibility requirements. In any case, an aid application should be made when you apply to a school, not after you are accepted. Furthermore, you must reapply for most forms of aid every year, and if you transfer to another school, your aid does not automatically follow.

After your application is reviewed, you will receive an award letter detailing the types and amounts of assistance for which you are eligible. Financial assistance will often be in the form of a "package" that includes several types of aid. Read the award letter carefully, and follow any instructions accompanying it. Evaluate how the types and amounts of aid will meet your specific needs. Pay particular attention to the amount of "self-help" assistance you have been offered, since you will need to work for this money while you are in school and/or repay the funds once you have left. If you apply for financial aid at more than one school and have an offer from each, take an advance look at how much it will actually cost to attend each school. Make your decision based upon such factors as tuition cost, living expenses either on or off campus, books and supplies, personal expenses, and transportation expenses to and from campus. Not all applicants will be eligible for need-based assistance. If you apply for this type of aid but do not qualify, you should be notified in writing. Notification usually includes information about alternative types of aid, such as a student loan at a slightly higher interest rate from the state or a private lender.

Financing your education as a graduate student can be more difficult unless you are a potential scientist or engineer. Application for aid should be made through both the graduate department to which you apply and through the financial aid office. In the sciences, aid in the form of a scholarship or a teaching or research assistantship is usually given, without the requirement of proving need. Such aid pays the cost of tuition and provides a monthly living stipend as well. In the nonsciences, you may still be eligible for federal or state loans and work-study programs, but grant assistance, except from the institution or a private source, usually ends with the bachelor's degree. However, a rural community or the military may provide assistance to the future doctor or lawyer in exchange for the promise to locate in the military or a rural area after completion of schooling.

Where do I get more information?

Each year the New Mexico Association of Financial Aid Administrators publishes a consumer guide to aid programs available throughout the state, as well as those specific to each institution.¹  The U.S. Government Printing Office publishes a guide to six federal aid programs.²  All types of aid programs are outlined in both pamphlets. The free state pamphlet is available from the financial aid offices of state institutions and includes information about student costs, interest rates, and repayment schedules for loans. Other sources of information include your high school counselor, various educational service centers such as the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the Social Security and Veterans Administrations (for those eligible), and private funding sources available on the Internet. You need to set up an interview with a financial aid advisor to help plan how you will meet your educational expenses. Through a personal contact of this type, a long-range plan for reaching your degree objective can be outlined.

¹ University of New Mexico, 1990 Consumer's Guide to Student Financial Aid, (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico, 1990).
² Office of Education, U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, Student Consumer's Guide: Six Federal Financial Aid Programs, 1993-94 (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1992).

Updated by 
Yohanna Patrice Wiuff 
Original article by 
Jane Bennett 
Financial Aid Advisor 
The University of New Mexico 
Albuquerque, NM