How to Pay for Your Undergraduate STEM Degree?

The previous blog post discussed why Hispanics should pursue a science, engineering, technology, and mathematics (STEM) degree. This blog post discusses how to pay for an undergraduate STEM degree. Options include:
  • Federal financial aid
  • Scholarships
  • Employer Tuition Reimbursement
  • Tuition-Free Community Colleges
The information provided is particularly important for Hispanics because data shows financial need is the primary reason why we do not complete a bachelor’s degree.

Federal Financial Aid is offered in the form of Loans, Grants, and Work-Study

Loans

Loans are the equivalent of borrowing money that has to be repaid with interest. There are two types of loans that the government offers to students, and they are the following: 

  • Direct subsidized loans
  • Direct unsubsidized loans

Direct subsidized loans are reserved for undergraduate students who have financial needs. On the other hand, direct unsubsidized loans are available for undergraduates and graduate students. The school you attend determines the amount you can borrow. The maximum amount of direct subsidized and direct unsubsidized loans a student can borrow each academic year is between US$5,000 and US$12,500. 

Generally, no interest is charged on direct subsidized loans while the student is in school full-time or part-time or during deferment periods. 3.75% is the current interest for undergraduate students’ direct unsubsidized and subsidized loans. The interest rate is fixed, meaning it does not change while the loan is being paid off.

Grants

Think of grants as free money. There are two types of grants offered exclusively to undergraduates: federal pell grant and federal supplemental educational opportunity grant (FSEOG). 

Whether a student receives a grant is dependent on financial need.

The largest federal pell grant that was awarded for the 2020 to 2021 school year was US$6,345. Meanwhile, FSEOGs range from US$100 to US$4,000.

Undergraduate STEM Degree

Federal Work-Study (FWS)

FWS is a form of federal aid where undergraduate students are hired as part-time employees either on or off-campus. The federal government pays up to 75% of the student’s salary, with the rest coming from a matching contribution by the school. There is no minimum or maximum amount that a student can be awarded in FWS. Instead, a school calculates a student’s award amount based on the federal government’s available funds, the student’s financial need, and the school’s resources. 
 
Students are typically paid no less than the federal minimum wage. The maximum amount paid is dependent on the institution. Students are employed by either the school or off-campus at private non-profit organizations, for-profit organizations, state or local public agencies, or federal agencies.
 
FWS is beneficial because it allows students to earn money while gaining work experience. However, students should take caution in working no more than 15 hours per week as evidence shows students who worked more than 15 hours per week had a statistically higher chance of not graduating or prolonging their graduation.

How to Apply to Federal Financial Aid?

Students must go to studentaid.gov and fill out the online FAFSA application. The parents’ tax information (i.e., 1040 Form) and social security numbers are required. The quickest and easiest way to fill out the FAFSA application is to have the student’s parents submit their 1040 form online. Students can then electronically connect their parents’ 1040 form to the FAFSA application. Each university will determine how much federal aid will be awarded to the student based on the tax information provided,

Scholarships for Hispanics

Scholarships are like grants because they are essentially free money. However, students must typically go through a competitive application process to win a scholarship. Few scholarships are awarded per student.

The Hispanic Scholarship Foundation offers scholarships to Hispanics pursuing an undergraduate or graduate degree in any field. The amount provided varies according to financial need but typically falls between US$500 to US$5,000.

One of my favorite websites to find scholarships is fastweb.com.

Undergraduate STEM Degree

Scholarships for Hispanics pursuing an Undergraduate STEM Degree

There are two well-known STEM scholarships for Hispanics studying STEM: 

SHPE has several scholarships available. They have a general scholarship application that allows them to identify which scholarships a student is best suited for. When I applied, I was awarded SHPE’s dissertation scholarship of US$5,000. GMiS has one scholarship application. They award typically between US$500 to US$10,000. 

Both scholarship applications take time to complete, but it is worthwhile because it proves that external institutions value your work if you win the scholarship.

Tips for Applying to Scholarships

"No matter how competitive the scholarship may be, apply anyways."

Ask a few people to review your application. Ideally, use your network or search for someone on LinkedIn who has won the scholarship you want to apply to and ask them for tips when filling out the application. 

Employers offering 100 % Tuition Reimbursement

The following list of employers offer full tuition reimbursement to their employees. The eligibility and offerings of each tuition reimbursement program differ according to the employer. Click on the links below to understand how each program works. Starbucks, for example, offers 100% tuition reimbursement for its full and part-time workers who enroll only in Arizona State University’s online program to pursue their first bachelor’s degree. 

Employers offering Partial Tuition Reimbursement

The following list of employers offer some monetary compensation to their employees for college tuition. Click on the links below to understand how each program works. Verizon, for example, offers up to $8,000 per year to full-time employees and $4,000 per year to part-time employees to pursue a degree or certification at any college. 

Tuition-Free Community Colleges

Community colleges are two-year institutions that allow students to graduate with an associate’s degree. The benefit of attending a community college is that the professors are dedicated solely to teaching students. While at a four-year institution, professors have other obligations, like research. Therefore, teaching at four-year institutions is not a priority like community colleges.

Suppose your goal is to obtain a bachelor’s degree. The good news is that community colleges often offer bridge programs that permit students to transfer their credits to a four-year institution. Therefore, it is vital to ensure a bridge program exists before enrolling in a community college.

There are 20 states and one city that offer tuition-free community college programs. Typically the students have to be state or city residents of where the community college is located. These tuition-free programs permit students to graduate with no college debt for their associate’s degree or the first two years of their bachelor’s degree.

  • Arkansas
  • Boston, Massachusetts
  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Hawaii
  • Indiana
  • Kentucky
  • Maryland
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • Nevada
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • Seattle
  • Tennessee
  • Virginia
  • Washington

What's Next?

The following blog post will discuss how to select an undergraduate institution.

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Stephanie Taboada

Stephanie Taboada

The author of this post is a Chemical Engineering Ph.D. Candidate. As a Latina and a STEM professional, Stephanie is passionate about incentivizing Hispanics to pursue STEM. Read Stephanie's blog to understand the benefits that exist in STEM for underrepresented groups. Follow her on social media to know when the next blog posts.

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