How to Research Financial Aid for STEM

Pursuing a STEM degree program can be expensive, but STEM financial aid may help to reduce the cost of your education. As you explore different STEM programs and compare costs, it’s helpful to learn about the different types of financial aid available so you can plan for the expenses of your education.

What Is Student Financial Aid?

Financial aid refers to the many types of financial support available to help students pay for college, career school or other education. Common types of college financial aid include federal grants, loans, scholarships and work-study job opportunities.

Many organizations and schools also offer scholarships or grants that don’t have to be repaid. To further reduce the cost of your education, you might explore student loans or participate in the Federal Work-Study Program while in school, which lets you work part-time to help cover your education expenses.

While some of these college financial aid options are available for any program, you may find that certain opportunities are offered specifically to students pursuing a STEM degree. Different types of STEM financial aid may also be available for non-degree programs, like bootcamps or short courses.

Different Types of Financial Aid for STEM Students

There are many different types of college financial aid, and the requirements for each may vary. STEM financial aid may depend on your income, employer, military affiliations and other factors. For those reasons, it’s helpful to be familiar with the different types of aid that are available, as well as which ones you might qualify for.

Data Science Scholarships

If you’re pursuing a degree in data science and are looking for STEM financial aid or college financial aid, you may want to research data science scholarships. Applying to scholarships can be competitive, so focusing on specialized scholarships intended for data science students means you won’t be competing against applicants pursuing other degrees.

A scholarship is essentially free money you don’t have to repay. Some scholarships are based on factors like your talents or academic performance. Scholarships may be a great way to help your resume stand out, especially when they’re merit-based. Scholarships can help to reduce student debt and may enable you to attend a higher-quality university than you could otherwise afford.

Be aware that specific scholarships may only be offered to undergraduate or graduate students. If you are enrolled in a master’s in data science program, check out our guide to data science scholarships to see which are available to master’s students.

Employer Sponsorship

Already employed but want to continue to develop your STEM skills? Instead of pursuing traditional STEM financial aid or college financial aid, employer sponsorship may be an option. This means your employer subsidizes a portion or the full cost of your education, typically with the requirement that you continue working for the company for a certain amount of time after you’ve earned your degree.

In addition to master’s degree programs, there are also skill-based bootcamps and short-term online courses that focus on specific data science topics. Employers may also sponsor these data science bootcamps and courses for professional development. Discuss the options with your employer. They might help pay your tuition, give you a scholarship or reimburse you after you’ve completed a bootcamp.

If you’re a high-performing employee, consider discussing sponsorship with your employer. It’s important to understand any requirements of the arrangement before you agree to proceed.

Military Education Benefits

Military education benefits may also contribute to your STEM financial aid or college financial aid package. If you’ve served or are serving in the military, you may be eligible for additional assistance paying for school.

GI Bill benefits help to cover the costs of college, graduate school and training programs for qualified veterans and their family members. Dependent spouses and children of veterans may also qualify for education benefits and job training.

Other programs are available, too. The Yellow Ribbon Program may help to cover fees that the GI Bill doesn’t cover, particularly when you’re going to an out-of-state, private, foreign or graduate school that has higher tuition.

Kaggle Competitions

Rather than relying on traditional STEM financial aid or college financial aid, you might also pursue STEM-related competitions. Kaggle, a global online community of data scientists, hosts many competitions to challenge participants to solve data science, machine learning and predictive analytics problems, with prize pools up to $1 million. There are also plenty of Getting Started competitions that don’t have any prize money, but that give you a chance to learn about and get started with Kaggle Competitions.

All competitions, including research and recruitment competitions, are open to anyone— novices or experts. Even if you don’t win, you may still develop valuable skills and techniques.

How Does Financial Aid Work?

Depending on the type of financial aid you receive, you may be able to minimize the amount of loans you take out and the interest you have to repay. Keep in mind that STEM financial aid programs may have different requirements; some may require you to be a full-time student, typically considered students who are taking at least 12 credits per semester.

You might be hesitant to apply for financial aid if you think you or your family earn too much, but there are no Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) income limits, so it’s best to apply each year to see what aid you might qualify for.

How to Research Financial Aid

How your STEM financial aid is disbursed may depend on the type of aid you’ve received. For example, if you’ve received grants and student loans, your school may issue that money in two separate disbursements that occur at least once a semester. If you’re participating in work-study, you may be paid monthly.

According to statistics from the Education Data Initiative, nearly 37% of undergraduates receive an average financial aid award of $8,285 in federal loans each year. Additionally, 42% of undergraduate students receive an average of $5,179 from federal grants each year. Students borrow an average of $11,836 annually to help cover the cost of their education, and students attending a public school generally borrow about $30,030 to help cover the cost of a bachelor’s degree.

The Education Data Initiative reports that undergraduate students who pursue federal work-study earn an average of $1,794 each year. Additionally, more than half of students receive scholarships, which average $7,923 per student. The amount of financial aid you receive may depend on a variety of factors, including your academic performance, the school you’re attending and your financial need and income.

Financial Aid FAQs

STEM financial aid can be complex, and it’s natural to have questions as you explore your options. We’ve included answers to some of the most common financial aid questions below.

What is considered a full-time student for financial aid?

Your STEM financial aid may require you to be a full-time student. That specific definition may depend on your college, but in most cases, you’ll need to be taking at least 12 credits per semester to be considered a full-time student.

Can I get financial aid if I’m not seeking a degree?

Financial aid is available for many types of education, including short-term online courses and bootcamps. Non-degree seeking students may still be eligible for financial aid, such as scholarships or employer sponsorships.

What is the maximum income to qualify for financial aid?

There are no FAFSA® income limits. You may apply to FAFSA® every year to see if you’re eligible for aid. Income limits might exist for other types of aid, like grants or scholarships offered by your school or other organization. It’s a good idea to check the guidelines for each type of aid you’re considering.

How much financial aid can I get per semester?

The amount of aid you receive each semester may vary significantly depending on your financial need, the school you’re attending, your academic performance, and even your degree program. Most undergraduate students receive approximately $8,285 in federal loans, but that amount may vary greatly.

What is the average financial aid award?

Most undergraduate students receive a combination of federal loans and federal grants. Federal loans average $8,285 per student per year, while federal grants average $5,179 per student per year, according to the Education Data Initiative. These amounts vary depending on student need, the cost of the school the student is attending and more.

Last updated in March 2022