If you are thinking about going back to school, you may also be thinking about how you will pay for it. Do not let the cost of school discourage you. There are many resources available to help you pay for school whether you are considering college or a trade school.
Different types of financial aid, also known as student aid, include grants, scholarships, work-study, and loans. Student aid can be used to cover your college or trade school expenses. There are some limitations on eligibility for individuals with a criminal conviction. However, most limitations are removed once you are released. Read here for financial aid eligibility for students with a prior conviction.
To apply for student aid, complete and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid® (FAFSA). The FAFSA deadline is different at the federal, state, and school level, so check directly with the schools you are interested in to make sure you get your application done on time. It is better to submit the application as early as possible to give yourself a higher chance of receiving a better financial aid package. After you complete the FAFSA and are granted school admission, your school will send you a financial aid offer that also includes federal loans if you are eligible.
A student loan is money borrowed from the federal government to cover school expenses. Student loans must be paid back with interest, but the interest rate is usually lower than a private loan or credit card. Another benefit of a student loan is that you do not have to pay it back until after you finish school. This allows you to focus on your education without worrying about payments.
Grants are like scholarships in that they do not have to be paid back, with the key difference being grants are typically need-based and scholarships are merit-based. Grants can be awarded through the government, the school, or other organizations. Some states also offer state grants where requirements may include state residency, a minimum GPA or SAT/ACT score, community service hours, or a high school diploma. However, if you withdraw from a program or change your enrollment status, you may be required to pay back the amount of the grant. As of July 1, 2023, you may qualify for a Federal Pell Grant if you have been convicted of a crime and since released or are incarcerated and enrolled in an approved prison education program. You may also qualify for a Federal Pell Grant if you are subject to an involuntary civil commitment for a sexual offense starting July 2023.
Pell grants are awarded by the federal government based on need.
A Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) is awarded directly through school’s financial aid offices.
To be considered for either of these grants, you need to complete and submit a FASFA.
There are tons of scholarships available for different traits, interests, and groups. There are some scholarships specifically to help individuals who have been incarcerated. Most of these are donation-based, so funding may be limited. Below are a few scholarship resources specific for individuals with a criminal history.
Even if you receive a financial aid package, you can still apply for scholarships. Scholarships can help pay for other school expenses aside from tuition, such as books, supplies, housing, transportation, and more. There is no limit to the number of scholarships you can receive. If you have a specific interest or hobby, there is likely a scholarship available. Websites such as Niche and Scholarships.com are good tools to assist in your scholarship search.
Work-study, offered through federal student aid, lets students with financial need work part-time to help pay for their education. The jobs offered are usually related to your course of study, making it a great addition to your resume. If you are considering work-study, apply early as these positions may be limited. The pay rate depends on the job, but you will always be compensated at least the federal minimum wage.
Employer Tuition Assistance
If you are currently employed, you may have access to employer tuition assistance, where your employer pays for all or some of your education. Here is a list of companies with great tuition reimbursement programs—many of which have also signed the Second Chance Pledge Ask your employer if they have a tuition reimbursement program available, and if so, how you can apply.
Prior Learning Assessments
Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) is a term used to describe learning outside a traditional academic environment. A PLA can save you money by giving college credit for job training, professional experience, or previous military training. Each school has their own guidelines for what experiences they will approve for college credit. It is also possible that some of your education or work experience during your incarceration will be eligible for college credit. Check with the schools in which you are interested about their PLA policy.
GEO Reentry Connect is a comprehensive resource for individuals who have been incarcerated. Find resources you need upon release from prison or jail–employment, housing, education, family services, treatment, and more.