The good news is there is financial help available for almost every student who attends Kansas University, said Stephanie Covington, associate director of the university's office of student financial aid.
The bad news is the most common type of financial aid comes in the form of loans that must be paid back rather than grants, which award students money that isn't required to be repaid.
Covington, though, encourages students who don't have all the money they need to attend school to apply for a loan because most students will qualify for at least one of the federal loan programs.
"Unfortunately there isn't a simple rule of thumb that says if a person's family makes this much money that they'll end up getting this much of a loan, but there are programs out there where as long as the student hasn't defaulted on a loan before, they'll qualify for some amount."
Stafford loans, which are funded with federal dollars, are the type of loans most students can qualify for, Covington said. There are two types of Stafford loans, a subsidized loan and an unsubsidized loan.
With a subsidized loan, the federal government pays the interest cost of the loan while the student is in school and for six months after the student has graduated. With an unsubsidized loan, interest accrues while students are in school, although students aren't required to begin making payments on the loan until after they graduate.
The subsidized loans, however, are limited to students who fall below certain income standards.
"Those loans are based on financial need, but you don't have to show financial need to qualify for an unsubsidized loan, so that opens the door to lots of people," Covington said.
Students can find out if they qualify for the federal help by filling out an application form, which is available at the financial office or at most high schools across the state.
Covington said students should be prepared to answer a series of questions about their family's income, and should have a completed tax return in front of them when filling out the application.
"It's a pretty complex formula the government uses and it takes into account a lot of different factors," Covington said.
If they do qualify, students will have some choices about how they structure their loan. The main choice involves how long they want to take to pay it off. Covington said the standard plan involves fixed payments over a 10-year period, but the government gives students the options of stretching the payments out over a 12- to 30-year period as well.
Grants are another option students should pursue, but Covington said grants require students to show a much greater financial need than is the case with federal loans.
"You have to be able show an even greater financial need because with grants you don't have to pay the money back," Covington said.
The same application a student fills out for a student loan will give university officials the information they need to determine if a student is eligible for federal grants, the most common of which are Pell Grants.
Numbers from the university's Office of Institutional Research and Planning, however, show that far fewer KU students receive grants than loans. During fiscal year 2001, approximately 13,000 students on the Lawrence campus received federal loans, while only about 5,000 students received a federal grant.
There are limits to how much grants can help. During the 2002-2003 school year the most any one student can receive from a Pell Grant will be $4,000, but it could be less depending on how much the federal government determines a student family can afford to pay towards the student's college education.
That means a Pell Grant alone won't come close to covering a student's financial bill to attend KU. For the upcoming school year, the financial aid office estimates that an average undergraduate, in-state resident will have $12,214 in college costs. For the average out-of-state undergraduate the amount jumps to $19,416
Another option for students to consider is a work study program. In fiscal year 2001, KU received $1.06 million in federal work study funding to provide on campus jobs to 643 students.
Like a grant, the money students receive does not have to be repaid, but they do have to work for it by filling jobs on campus ranging from answering phones to cleaning up the campus.
"The good thing about the work study program is that it is certainly easier to qualify for than a grant," Covington said. "But we are only allocated a certain amount of dollars and once they are gone we can't help any more students."