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College Planning, Financial Aid Guidance, and Career Awareness

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Financial Aid for Rhode Islanders


Higher education is expensive, whether you attend a local career or community college or a well-known private university. Paying for tuition and fees as well as books, supplies and housing expenses may seem overwhelming. Fortunately, there are four types of financial aid available to Rhode Islanders that can assist you with your higher education expenses.


Grants amount to a really great gift. Grants are not loans, so no matter how much money is available and given to you for your education, if you complete the program for which you obtained the grant, you never have to pay it back (the TEACH grant is the one exception). Grants are almost always based on need and are available to those with less than stellar academic performance.  

There are several entities that provide grants, including:

  • Federal government
  • State government - through RIHEAA
  • Individual colleges or schools directed toward a specific career
  • Private organizations and foundations

To qualify for a state grant through Rhode Island, students must be residents of the state and must file their FAFSA prior to March 1.


Like grants, scholarships are gifts that do not have to be repaid. Scholarships are available through colleges, universities and career schools as well as many private organizations. Some state scholarships are available. For example, Rhode Island awards scholarships under its Academic Promise Program and considers both the need and academic performance of the applicant. As with grants, for students to be eligible for this Rhode Island financial aid, students must be residents of the state and plan on attending an accredited school in Rhode Island.

Scholarships are often awarded based on academic or athletic performance, although need may also be a consideration as well as personal qualities or interests. Some schools award scholarships to those who have excelled in certain sports, like volleyball or basketball. They are also available through private organizations. Check with the financial aid office of the school you wish to attend for more information. Also check with your guidance office and search locally at www.rischolarships.org. 


The federal government sponsors a work-study program that is administered through individual schools. It provides part-time jobs to those accepted in the program. The job will often be in some type of campus employment or in a job related to your major course of study.

The jobs may be on or off campus. You will be paid at least the minimum wage, but the amount you are allowed to earn depends on the money available through your school and the amount you qualify for based on your need.

Generally, the amount earned through work-study covers living expenses, books and supplies but is not enough for direct costs such as tuition and fees. Also, work-study funds are awarded as they are earned so you typically don't receive them until after tuition is due. 

Student loans

There are a number of federal and state student loan programs available as well as loans through private organizations. Students should always maximize their Federal Stafford Loans before looking elsewhere for college loans.  

These are loans so, of course, the money will need to be repaid and repaid with interest. The amount of money available and the terms of interest and repayment vary with the type of loan and where the loan comes from. 

Rhode Islanders have access to a state-based education loan through Rhode Island Student Loan Authority. 

Begin the application process

For any federal aid, including grants, scholarships, work-study programs and loans, you must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This application is also used by the State of Rhode Island. For free assistance completing the FAFSA, make an appointment with the College Planning Center of Rhode Island

Also, check with the schools you are considering and ask for information on government and private loans, grants, scholarships and work-study programs they offer.

Financial Aid: Paying for College for Free


As a parent of a high school student, you may believe that there is no free money for college, but this is simply not true. Billions of dollars in federal financial aid and millions more in private scholarships and grants exist to help your student in funding their education. Despite common belief, help is also available for middle-class families.

Types of Financial Aidcollege

The Types of Financial Aid available include federal and non-federal financial aid.  Federal financial aid comes from the government in the form of grants and loans. Though some families may not qualify for grants (money for college which does not have to be paid back), several types of loans are available to help families afford college. Furthermore, many of these loans have a variety of options including deferral and forbearance in the unexpected event that you have difficulty paying your loans in the future.

Non-federal financial aid can come in the form of grant and scholarship award programs from individual, local and national organizations. Many scholarships are given to individuals who meet specific criteria, such as pursuing a particular academic field of study or going to a specific university. Others may require a service agreement. For example, some hospitals pay for a nursing program in exchange for a commitment of several years of service upon graduation. Financial need is not always a requirement for scholarships.

How to Get Started

Now that we've dispelled the rumor that there is no free money for college, you are likely wondering where to get started. 

  • Apply for the FAFSA (www.fafsa.ed.gov). The first thing that every student should do is complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, for which they'll need their parents' help. The application requires information about income and assets including the student and parents' federal tax returns and income statements. The application can be started and saved for a later date, but can also be completed fairly easily if you have the documents that you'll need available. The FAFSA is also used by some college admission offices to determine eligibility for non-federal scholarships and awards. This form is required to be eligible for federal financial aid. 
  • See if you need to  complete a College Scholarship Services (CSS) profile. The CSS profile records more information than the FAFSA and requires personal and financial information. While the FAFSA is free, the CSS profile costs $25 to complete and send to one college or university. The fee drops to $16 for subsequent schools. You only need to file this form if your schools require it. 
  • Look locally. Many parents say there is no free money for college after being discouraged looking for national scholarships, but again, it's not true. While national scholarships may offer larger awards, the competition is much larger. Start looking at local community and professional organizations in Rhode Island which are committed to the future of other young Rhode Islanders. The pool is smaller and you can win several smaller awards totaling more than one large scholarship. Start your search at the school guidance office and online at www.rischolarships.org
  • Contact the school. If there is a particular school that your student is interested in, don't be shy about contacting the college's financial aid office. Talk to the financial aid officer about your financial situation and aid opportunities available at the school.

As you navigate through the financial aid opportunities available for college, remember that if you hear there is no free money for college, it's simply not true. Furthermore, you are not doing this alone! A bevy of other parents are also looking for these opportunities.

If you are in need of assistance while looking for financial aid, please visit the College Planning Center of Rhode Island. Since 1998, the CPCRI has provided information about financial aid and the college selection process to Rhode Islanders absolutely free of charge.

10 Questions to Ask about College Financial Aid


Today, a college’s cost is playing a larger-than-ever role in determining what school a student attends. More families are selecting schools based on the best offered value, and not the most prestigious name. Because student enrollment is at a historic high, even students with stellar grades and an application full of extracurricular activities can expect to go through the financial aid process.

After identifying a potential school that is a good fit for you, it is important to investigate the school’s financial aid options. Every university and college will have its own policies over who qualifies for aid, what type of aid is available, and other potential limitations. To be sure you understand the details, here is list of the top 10 questions to ask about financial aid at your school.

  1. What do I need to do to qualify at your school?  It's important to inquire about what forms and applications are necessary to fill out for available financial aid. This includes asking about FAFSA, CSS Profile, and other independent applications. The FAFSA is required by all schools for awarding federal financial aid. As for other sources of aid, many schools will use one form to determine a student’s eligibility for any and all available financial aid, but others will require individual applications for separate awards. Asking about the necessary forms will ensure that you don’t miss out on desirable opportunities.
  2. Are scholarships renewable?  Find out what you will need to do to keep or renew available scholarships. This includes asking about required credit enrollment, expected grade averages, and other potential stipulations.
  3. What is the average net price?  A school’s sticker price often does not reflect its accurate cost for a full or part-time student. Ask your financial aid officer about any extra student fees, average book costs, room and board, and any other add-ons that might otherwise surprise you. Many college’s will offer a net price calculator to help students determine what their true cost of attending will be which assess the total cost of attendance and the average financial aid award for a family like yours. 
  4. How does work-study work? Am I guaranteed a job?  Work-study is a federal-subsidized hourly wage grant that may be included as a part of your financial aid package. However, terms may differ between schools and it is important to ask your financial aid officer whether you are certain of a job. Additionally, ask how many hours you can expect to receive per semester. The only real difference between a regular campus job and a work-study job is where the funds come from (the school itself or the federal government). 
  5. Do you have a preferred lender list for non-federal loans?  Every college sets its own criteria for what lenders will be on their preferred lender list but not all schools offer a list. Generally, lenders listed tend to offer the least expensive and most comprehensive financial aid options for qualifying students. Asking about a school’s preferred lender list will help you find the best value for your school. But know that if you find a better deal outside of the preferred lender list, you can apply for that opportunity. 
  6. Do you include the PLUS loan on financial aid award letters? Why or why not? 
  7. What is the average amount of debt a student graduates with from this school?  Knowing how students fare post-graduation will help you determine whether taking on the extra loans are worth it, and help you craft a long-term strategy.happy
  8. Do you know what the average salary is for a graduate of ______ department?  In addition to knowing how much debt you might rack up, it is important to know about what your future earnings might be.
  9. What is the student persistence rate?  This is a metric for how many students return from year to year. In other words, how successful is the school at retaining current students? Also, ask about their graduation rates. Graduates are more likely to get better paying jobs than non-graduates.  
  10. What is the school cohort default rate?  This is reflection of how well borrowers of federal loans are at repaying their loans. Knowing your school’s cohort default rate can help you determine whether you may experience future financial hardship.
Free help is available for applying for financial aid. 

College Planning Essentials: Grants & Scholarships


Getting accepted to the college of your choice is often looked upon as a large hurdle for students to jump over. However paying for college can be an even bigger mystery. The truth is, finding the funds to pay for tuition, books, housing, and all the other expenses associated with going to college is hard work. Here are a few tips on how to find grants and scholarships to assist you in paying for college.grant

Learning about grants and scholarships is one of those college planning essentials that should happen as early as possible. College loans are easy to apply for, however it is essential that students understand the benefits of grants and scholarships before taking a loan.

Grants and scholarships are funds that do not need to be paid back. A grant can be offered through the federal government, state, through your college, or a foundation. Scholarships are often given through your college or high school, community organizations, businesses, foundations, your state, etc. Awarding of grants and scholarships can be based on financial need or through a competitive process. It is important for students to take an aggressive approach to researching what grants and scholarships are best suited for them.

Be Organized

Being organized is one of our top college planning essentials. Try creating a spreadsheet on your computer to help you organize yourself during your grant and scholarship research and application process. Make note of the organization offering the grant or scholarship, deadline for applying, items required for the application, and the date you completed the process. Leave room for notes on any follow-up information you receive after submitting the application. Keeping track of what you have applied for will keep you from being overwhelmed.

Complete the FAFSA and College Based Financial Aid Forms

Most schools make decisions about financial aid based upon information given in the FAFSA. If the FAFSA is not completed, most schools will not be able to award you grants, scholarships, or even loans. Some colleges have their own school based financial aid applications that are completed in addition to the FAFSA. Be sure to check in with your college's financial aid office to make sure you have all the required forms. 

Do Your Research

Research for college grants and scholarships can begin as early as junior year in high school. The reason is that the applications can require a number of materials that can take you some time to organize. Furthermore the deadlines for applications and when those funds can be used can differ from one organization to the next. The earlier you start your research process, the better off you will be.

Many students make the mistake of looking only at college grant and scholarship databases on the internet. The truth is that while internet databases may be a great place to start your research, the number of students applying to many of those scholarships and grants make the application process a lot more competitive. Try using your local resources to find grant and scholarship programs where the pool of applicants is sure to be a lot smaller. Visit your local library for books, local online databases, your high school guidance office, and other resources. Ask your parents about scholarships available through their place of work. Community organizations like the Lions Club, Rotary International, places of worship, and even some corporations may have scholarship and grant opportunities worth researching.

The best time to start researching grant and scholarship programs is now. If you have questions about college planning essentials, please contact us.

College Planning for Parents: Financial Aid Eligibility


So you've started the journey of sending your child to college. This might be your first time, or maybe you've done it before. One of the biggest questions in most parents' minds is how they're going to finance their child's higher education. Everyone knows that a college degree opens doors and that college graduates make more money over their lifetimes than people with just a high school diploma do. Maybe you don't think your child qualifies for financial aid. But college planning for parents, and more specifically figuring out how you will foot the tuition bill, doesn't have to be a confusing or stressful process.

Common Misconceptions about Financial Aid

Many people think that applying and qualifying for financial aid is daunting and that it's not worth the time if they won't qualify anyway. Let's clear the process up a little. Put simply, financial aid is based on expected family contribution (EFC) and sometimes (much more rare) on grades.

Take Financial Aid 101 for Parents

  • EFC: This can vary depending on how much you've saved for your child's education, what your income and assets are, how many children you have attending college at the same time, and so on. You must fill out the FAFSA to see what your EFC is and what kind of financial aid your child is able to receive.
  • Grades: Some, but not most, aid is based on need and not on grades. However, if your student has stellar grades, he or she might qualify for scholarships to help supplement need-based aid.

Eligibility for Financial Aidmoney

The truth is, the majority of students qualify for and use some financial aid. Financial need is based on the cost of attendance minus EFC. Cost of attendance takes into account all costs: tuition, books, room and board, and so on.

Filling out the FAFSA

Because so many factors go into determining EFC, many families assume that they don't qualify when they actually do. How many people are in your family, how much you and your child make, even your age factor in.

College planning for parents should start early so your child is ready to enroll before the semester starts and so he or she doesn't have to worry about how college will be paid for. The FAFSA is filled out electronically. There are instructions to guide you every step of the way, and you can find assistance in many places. Filling out the FAFSA is the only way to find out your EFC and what your family qualifies for in the way of aid.

College Planning Checklist: Steps to Take


Getting into the right college can seem like a monumental task. There are hundreds of schools in Rhode Island and across the nation accepting candidates for admission. Finding the school that is your best fit and getting accepted is a task that, like finding a great job, requires some planning and forethought. Get organized in your approach, learn as much as you can about the schools you are interested in and the application process. 

Some things you need to know:

  • How to apply

  • When to apply

  • What you can do to make your application stand out

Getting started

Start your search with a self evaluation. Ask yourself what schools appeal to you and why. Then, honestly evaluate your abilities and accomplishments as a student. Some schools only accept a limited number of candidates.

Getting accepted means competing with other applicants. Make a list of all the schools you want to apply to and research their requirements for admission. Talk to your guidance counselor about creating a college list and how to effectively promote your candidacy.

Getting organized

A college planning checklist, information lists and charts are yourchecklist best friends when applying to college. A chart makes it easy to see at a glance which schools you've applied to, what their application deadlines and entrance requirements are. Keeping a detailed list of potential school information helps you when it is time to apply for admission and financial aid.

You don't have to make all of these lists and charts up yourself. The College Planning Center provides free college application trackers in both PDF and Excel formats to make your job easier. You can download this and other useful resources to help get you started.


How to apply to college: Narrowing your list


The time to apply to college arrives and it can seem like a daunting task at first.  What colleges should you apply to?  How do you know if they will be right for you?  You can reduce the amount of stress involved by narrowing your choices in advance.  Read on to find out how.

What degree do you want

The first thing you need to decide is what course of study you want to pursue.  Not all colleges offer the same degree programs.  Eliminating the schools that do not offer your choice of degree is the first step.


Do you want to live at home while attending college or live on campus?  If you want a campus experience, how far from home can you go before you feel uncomfortable?  Take into account how you will travel on school breaks and holidays. Download your guide to college planning

Social Activities

Do you plan on participating in any sports while in college?  If so, you will want to make sure a team is available when you apply to college.  What about such clubs as Photography or an active LBGT community on campus?  Take into consideration what social activities appeal to you and if they will be available.

How will you pay

College can be expensive.  When choosing where to apply, take into account such things as available grants and scholarships.  These can make a difference between being able to pay for school or having to skip a semester here and there.  It will also determine whether or not you will need a job while also studying.

Divide your list

Once you have picked a number of schools that meet all your criteria, take time to divide the list into schools you know you will be accepted at, schools you are fairly sure of acceptance and schools that might be a bit difficult based on your SAT or ACT scores, class rank, GPA, etc.  Once divided, pick the top two to three choices in each category and apply.


You should have anywhere from six to eight schools that fit your criteria.  Keep in mind that when you apply to college, you will be spending at least the next four years there, so make sure all those you apply to are schools you can see yourself being happy attending.  


Once all your applications have been sent and you have received acceptance letters, you need to choose between those who have accepted your application.  Ideally, the school you want most will be among them.  If it isn't, you can be sure that any schools that are will be a good fit and place you can be happy attending because you narrowed your choices and only applied to such schools.  Pick the one among these that appeals to you the most and get ready for your next life adventure.

Nailing your college admission essay


An undoubtedly important part your entire college application packet is the essay. This component is integral to many college's decision-making processes for several reasons. One, it shows the representatives on the college’s admissions board that you are able to put your thoughts together – through the written word – in an organized, creative, and grammatically-correct manner; it demonstrates you have a grasp of the English language.  Second, the essay is the only time other than the in-person interview where you have the opportunity to share some personal and interesting information; the essay is the place to show the admissions office your personality. Third, the essay can significantly separate you from all the other student candidates vying for acceptance into the  college; it’s the opportunity for you to show how you will fit in with the college culture and be an asset to the school.

The Components of an Amazing College Essay.

Now for the seemingly-hard part – actually writing the essay.  If you break the writingessay process down into steps, it won’t be as overwhelming for you.  You’ll then easily be able to work on the different components of it at a time instead of trying to craft the whole essay in one sitting.  Along with making your essay personal and distinctly your own, there are several necessary parts to writing an amazing college essay that you will want to include:  the opening line, the introduction, the paragraphs in the body of the essay, and the conclusion.

The opening line.

Start your essay with a direct and captivating line. One of our favorite essays from last year started with the simple phrase, "I have a passion for writing." Another example from Johns Hopkins University starts, "I have a blue seventh place athletic ribbon hanging on my mantel." This approach hints at the personality of the writer (humorous) and makes us want to read more ("what does the reader think about that blue seventh place ribbon?) If you are having trouble coming up with a good opening line, try researching  meaningful and relevant quotes by famous classic writers, world-renowned scientists, or any other highly-respected and well-known non-controversial individual. Use that quote as inspiration for your opening line. Or you may even choose to incorporate it into your essay. 

The Introduction.

Now that you have the first sentence written for your intro, you have the opportunity to continue telling your story. Write a few sentences that elaborate on your opening line and think about how those following lines fit into the big theme of your essay. The following lines in the blue ribbon example cited above are, "Every day, as I walk into my living room, the award mockingly congratulates me as I smile. Ironically, the blue seventh place ribbon resembles the first place ribbon in color; so, if I just cover up the tip of the seven, I may convince myself that I championed the fourth heat. But, I never dare to wipe away the memory of my seventh place swim; I need that daily reminder of my imperfection. I need that seventh place."

The body.

These are the paragraphs that really explain who you are and further solidify what you wrote about in your introduction. Perhaps you’ve rescued animals your whole life and want to earn a degree in Veterinary Science. Maybe the college to which you are applying is the same one your mom attended. Or, maybe you will be the first person in your family to go to college. Whatever you choose to share – make it succinct and keep it personal. Your essay should not simply be a repeat of the information you shared on your application.

The conclusion.

Here you restate the gist of your essay. The conclusion of the Johns Hopkins example states: "So, the blue seventh place ribbon sits there, on my mantel, for the world to see. I feel no shame in that. In fact, my memorable 20 laps mean more to me than an award because over time, the blue of the seventh place ribbon fades, and I become more colorful by embracing my imperfections and gaining resilience-but not athleticism."

If you need some help reviewing your essay, make an appointment with the College Planning Center of Rhode Island.

Jumping on the Financial Aid Bandwagon


The cost of college is rising every year. But even as the sticker price goes up, discounts in the form of grants, scholarships and tuition waivers are also increasing. Planning your child’s college funding is not just a matter of putting money into savings. Considering you might be expected to pay $23,000 a year or more in out-of-pocket expenses for your teenager’s college tuition, fees, books, room and board, you may find saving that much to be an onerous task - and for good reason. Thankfully, you have a lot of options right at your fingertips, if you are adequately prepared.

Federal Financial Aid

The first task you should accomplish is to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form goes over the student’s financial situation and that of his/her parents. It's always a good idea to set aside some time with your teenager to complete this form together. The government expects that you will contribute to your teenager’s college education plans. Before you fill out the application, have these documents handy:

  • Social Security number
  • Federal tax returns and income information for all parties (student and parents)
  • Records of any other income
  • Bank statements

To make the process easier, the U.S. Department of Education allows you to obtain a PIN number that you and your student can use to sign documents electronically. It can take a few days to receive your pin, so you will want to request one in advance. The FAFSA process will determine if your student will be eligible for all federal grants (and some college grants), which are funds for education that you do not have to pay back. Even if s/he is not, the federal government offers a number of student loans. Your child may be eligible for subsidized loans, which accrue no interest as long as s/he is registered with a minimum number of units. But there are also unsubsidized loans, available for students and their parents.

Non-Federal Financial Aid

Some colleges also require that you complete a College Scholarship Services (CSS) PROFILE or an institutional financial aid form. The PROFILE is administered by the College Board, and is intended to give greater information to private institutions about your finances. The CSS profile application requires more detailed information than the FAFSA, with specifics about income and expenses for both students and their parents. You will need all the information you readied for the FAFSA, and also some data about how you plan to file for the current year.FAFSA The benefit to completing a CSS profile is that you can use a single form to apply for non-federal financial aid and scholarships from over 400 various colleges and universities. The CSS profile does charge a fee. It is $25 to complete the profile and send it to one college or university of your choice. If you request a report sent to any subsequent colleges or universities, the cost is $16 and may be elected at any time.

These major national systems are the easiest way to open up the world of financial aid for you and your student. But do not forget to look locally. For the schools your child selected for applications, arrange to speak to a counselor or a financial aid administrator. They may know of scholarships and grants that are local to the community or the school itself. They may also be able to make specific recommendations based on your student’s demographic and school record.

Whenever you have questions about obtaining financial aid for your teenager, you should always ask for help. Visit the College Planning Center of Rhode Island for more information and advice for your family.

College Planning: Rhode Island's top academic programs

When it comes to getting an education that prepares you for career success, colleges in Rhode Island have programs that will position you at the top. They feature highly-rated curriculums in some of the more in-demand fields of today, providing a solid foundation for your future. Here are some options to consider if you’re applying to college in Rhode Island.
  • As a member of the prestigious Ivy League, Brown University has longComputer Programming maintained a reputation for academic innovation and excellence. It’s no surprise that in the cutting-edge field of Computer Science they regularly rank in the top 20 national programs. Their multidisciplinary approach allows students to select concentrations in related areas such as economics and computational biology. Thanks to Brown’s unique emphasis on research, undergraduates have unparalleled opportunities to participate and even co-author papers. Their Women in Computer Science group features mentoring and outreach programs to increase female participation.
  • Right next door to Brown is Rhode Island School of Design with its highly acclaimed Fine Arts program. Majors are available on undergrad and graduate levels in a variety of media including film/animation/video, photography and sculpture. Students participate in internships with high-profile, creative organizations such as Google, Disney, Martha Stewart, Cartoon Network, and Museum of Modern Art. The school also has a reciprocal arrangement with their neighbor wherein students may cross-register for classes and have access to Brown’s academic and athletic facilities. RISD has an enviable job placement rate, with 96 percent of alumni finding employment within a year of graduating.
  • Established in 1854 as a normal school, Rhode Island College hasSchool Teacher grown into a comprehensive institution but still maintains its excellent School of Education and Human Development. The program has been accredited by the National Council of Accreditation of Teacher Education since 1954, most recently confirmed in 2012. Degree programs cover the entire spectrum from elementary and secondary to specialized areas such as technology, art and music. If college costs are a factor for you, approximately 70 percent of incoming RIC freshmen have been awarded need-based aid. In recent years students completing the program here have had a 100 percent success rate in passing state licensing tests.
  • If you’ve already decided on a career path, you may feel right at home at Johnson & Wales University. Students begin taking courses in their chosen major immediately, rather than spending their first two years exploring options as is the case at many liberal arts schools. As food-related careers have become more popular and sophisticated, the spotlight has focused on their College of Culinary Arts. Celebrity chefs and television stars Emeril Lagasse, Tyler Florence and Chris Cosentino received their training at JWU. The program also incorporates a multidisciplinary approach enabling students to develop their business and management skills.
  • A business degree can open doors to a multitude of career options. Bryant University’s College of Business has been ranked in the top ten percent of accredited schools by Bloomberg Business Week. Five departments offer concentrations in fields such as accounting and computer information systems, while the recently instituted major in global supply chain management prepares students for the exciting and competitive international marketplace.

Whether your dreams include one of these fields or other areas of study, our state's colleges have a program that can help you achieve them. The College Planning Center can offer free guidance in considering all your options, including scholarships in Rhode Island. Make your appointment today. 
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