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Financing College: Free Money

Apr. 20, 2017 Penn State News

This installment of “Financing College: Where’s the Money?” explores financing college using scholarships and grants, forms of financial aid paid for through state, federal and other programs, which do not require repayment by the college student.

The first step toward receiving “free money” is completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. The information supplied through this form is used to make award determinations for grants, loans, some scholarships and federal work-study. With so many financial aid awards at stake, completion of the FAFSA form is one of the most important steps in the financial aid process.

Families should check with each school where their student is applying to find the preferred deadline for filing the FAFSA and to receive maximum consideration for aid. 

The deadline for Pennsylvania residents submitting the FAFSA form is as early as May 1 and as late as Aug. 1. Students should check the FAFSA website for more information.


At Penn State all students who are offered admission and submit the FAFSA form — listing Penn State as a school they wish to receive their FAFSA results — are considered for scholarships awarded by the University. Some of Penn State’s colleges and campuses may require an additional application. Those scholarship requirements are available at

During the 2015-16 academic year, 13 percent of Penn State undergraduate students received $131 million in scholarship money.

Some quick facts about Penn State scholarships from the Office of Admissions’ website:

  • Both Pennsylvania and non-Pennsylvania residents receive equal consideration for scholarships.
  • Penn State scholarships comprise 9 percent of the available funding for undergraduate students.
  • Approximately 6,700 first-year students receive a University scholarship.
  • Thirty-five percent of first-year scholarship recipients are at University Park; the remaining 65 percent at other Penn State campuses.
  • Typical Penn State scholarships are between $1,500 and $3,000 per academic year.
  • Approximately 15 percent of first-year students receive private scholarship support.

Beyond Penn State scholarships offered, there are a multitude of other scholarships available for academic and athletic achievement, ethnicity, religious affiliation, financial need, military service, career choice, and even quirky qualities like being left-handed.

The Office of Student Aid recommends the following free scholarship search engines to apply for these types of scholarships outside of the University:

To enhance their chances of securing scholarships, students should work to increase their grade-point average (GPA); perform well on standardized tests; and seek out scholarship opportunities specific to their strengths and characteristics.

Also, Pennsylvania recently began offering a Ready to Succeed Scholarship program administered through PHEAA. The scholarship, which awards between $500 and $2,000, requires a student to have earned at least 24 semester credits; have a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.25; and have a family income that does not exceed $110,000. Additional details are available on the PHEAA website.

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