5 Ways to Pay for College at Public Universities

06/26/2015 09:16 am ET | Updated Jun 25, 2016

Over the last five years, tuition and fees for public universities have risen an average of 17%. In the 2014-2015 school year, the average tuition and fees was $9,139 for state schools across the nation. Despite these increases, there are a number of ways to fund your college career beyond paying out of pocket. Read on to find out what types of financial aid are available for undergraduate students attending public universities.


The federal government awards Pell grants directly to undergraduate students. These grants do not need to be repaid and are awarded based on demonstrated financial need, which is determined when students apply for financial aid through the FAFSA. The current maximum Pell grant amount is $5,730 per year, though the actual amount you receive is based on a number of factors, such as the cost of your tuition.

For students who demonstrate extreme financial need, the government also offers the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG). These grants provide between $100 and $4,000 each year and may be received in addition to Pell Grants. Other specific federal grant programs include the Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent (SMART) Grant and the Academic Competitiveness Grant.


Scholarships may be awarded by a variety of sources, such as your high school or local civic organizations. Search online for scholarships that you may be interested in applying for. Also be sure to ask around your community and school for ideas on local scholarships. They are generally less competitive than those offered at the national level, and plenty of organizations provide funding to help students from their geographic region.

Work-Study Program

Students may receive funds through the Federal Work-Study Program, which allows them to work part-time in jobs that are related to their field of studies. Eligibility occurs through the FAFSA, and funds are based on need and distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis. Most jobs are affiliated with your school, though some non-profit organizations also use the program. You’ll be paid at least minimum wage while getting to explore your studies in a real-life work experience.

Federal Loans

Unlike grants and scholarships, loans must be repaid in full (plus interest) over a certain amount of time. Federal loans come in two varieties: subsidized and unsubsidized. Subsidized loans are beneficial because they do not accrue interest while you are enrolled in college at least part-time. You also don’t have to make any payments until six months after you graduate. With a fixed interest rate currently set at 4.29%, you don’t need to worry about ballooning payments as the loan matures.

Unsubsidized loans, on the other hand, begin accruing interest as soon as the funds are disbursed. However, you can defer interest payments until you graduate and start making loan payments, in which case the amount of interest accrued while you were in school will simply be added to the original loan amount. Currently, the interest rate for unsubsidized loans is 4.29%.

Private Loans

If you have exhausted all of your financial aid options and still have expenses to cover, you can search the private loan marketplace. There are plenty of online lenders available; just be sure to compare several offers to make sure you choose the best offer possible. While federal loan rates are fixed, many private loan lenders offer variable rates that are very competitive with federal loan rates. As you may be worried about having a variable rate, you can always refinance after you graduate and enjoy the variable rates while they are low. 

If you are interested in getting a private student loan or refinancing your existing student debt, visit Credible.