Financial Aid Options in Pennsylvania

Written by: Kristyn Pilgrim
Updated: 7/13/20

In addition to the many types of student loans available through the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid, Pennsylvania offers students many financial assistance programs.

With almost 250 higher education institutions, there are many opportunities to continue your education in Pennsylvania. If you’re a Pennsylvania resident, you’re also eligible for resident-specific student aid.

To help students navigate financial assistance, the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA), established in 1963 by the Pennsylvania General Assembly, is a national provider of financial aid to students. PHEAA administers the Pennsylvania State Grant and other state-funded financial aid programs.


Before applying for student aid, Pennsylvania students have to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which is available online as well as through the Android and iOS apps.

As you get ready to sit down and complete the FAFSA, you need to (a) determine if you are dependent or independent and (b) gather some documents. If you are dependent, you need these documents for yourself and your parents; if you are independent, you only need them for yourself.

  • Your Social Security number
  • Your Alien Registration number (if you are not a U.S. citizen)
  • Records of money earned, including your federal income tax returns, and W-2s
  • Records of investments and bank statements
  • Records of untaxed income
  • The ability to create an electronic signature 

Types of Pennsylvania Financial Aid

There are four primary types of aid: grants, scholarships, work-study, and student loans.

In addition to federal student aid, there is state student aid, school-specific student aid, and private aid (in the form of loans, scholarships, grants, and gifts). Higher education institutions typically suggest that students look for and accept scholarships, grants, and gifts – free money that does not have to be paid back – before taking out student loans. 

Federal student loans typically offer greater protections than private student loans, have lower interest rates, and have better terms for repayment. However, you should compare your options before making any decisions. 

Grants and Scholarships 

Pennsylvania offers many scholarships and grants for its residents and children of residents to help pay for higher education. Grants and scholarships are considered free money available to students and don’t have to be paid back.

  • The Pennsylvania State Grant Program helps eligible state residents afford the costs of undergraduate education. A summer version of this grant, the Pennsylvania Summer State Grant Program, helps eligible students take summer courses. Since 1965, more than $11.4 billion has been awarded to eligible Pennsylvania residents in need of financial assistance.
  • The Postsecondary Educational Gratuity Program is for children of Pennsylvania police officers, firefighters, rescue and ambulance squad members, corrections employees, and National Guard members who died in the line of duty since Jan. 1, 1976, and the children of specific types of first responders who died as a direct result of their duties related to Sept. 11, 2001.
  • The Ready to Succeed Scholarship Program is for high-achieving students whose annual family income doesn’t exceed $110,000, with a minimum award of $500, and a total of up to $1,000 for part-time students and $2,000 for full-time students.
  • Federal grants include Federal Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG), Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants, and Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grants. Federal Pell Grants and FSEOG are for undergraduate students who demonstrate exceptional financial need


Outside of the federal work-study program, Pennsylvania offers a State Work-Study Program, which is open to all Pennsylvania students who meet eligibility requirements. Work-study programs allow students to be enrolled in school while earning money to help pay for their educational expenses. 

Federal and State Student Loans 

Pennsylvania offers a private student loan program through the PHEAA called the PA Forward Student Loans for undergraduate students, graduate students, and parents.

There are three types of federal student loans available: Direct Subsidized Loans, Direct Unsubsidized Loans, and Direct PLUS Loans. If you have multiple loans, you can combine your eligible federal student loans into a single loan with a single loan servicer, called a Direct Consolidation Loan.

  • Direct Subsidized Loans are for undergraduate students demonstrating financial need, offer up to $5,500 a year, and the U.S. Department of Education is the lender. Interest is generally not charged during specific periods, such as when the borrower is in school at least half-time.
  • Direct Unsubsidized Loans are for graduate, undergraduate, and professional degree students who do not need to demonstrate financial need. Interest accrues the entire time of the loan, including when you are a student in school. The U.S. Department of Education is the lender, and the loan can be up to $20,500.
  • Direct PLUS Loans are for parents who want to borrow money to pay for their dependent undergraduate student’s education or graduate and professional degree students. Financial need does not have to be demonstrated. The U.S. Department of Education is the lender, and the maximum amount of the loan is the school-determined cost of attendance minus any other financial aid the student receives.

Certain loans are eligible to be forgiven. Loan forgiveness means that after certain variables are met, you will no longer be required to repay all or part of your loan.

The federal government offers loan forgiveness for certain programs, including the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) and Teacher Loan Forgiveness.

Pennsylvania-Specific Repayment Options 

  • The Pennsylvania Bar Foundation offers a Loan Repayment Assistance Program for attorneys who work at organizations providing free legal assistance to Pennsylvania’s poor and disadvantaged.

Military and Pennsylvania National Guard Programs 

Pennsylvania has many programs to support its military, National Guard members, and their families.

  • The Children of POW/MIA Soldiers is a state grant available to the children of any U.S. soldier who is missing in action or is a prisoner of war.

As you explore the many financial aid programs available for Pennsylvania residents, can guide you through the many financial decisions you’ll need to make as you pursue higher education. Whether you are planning, borrowing, or repaying your student loans, can help you make the most of your college investment.