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If you’re in a Kentucky high school and have an eye on college in the state, the best thing you can do is focus on your GPA and ACT scores. Through the Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship (KEES), you can receive free money for every extra point you earn above a base limit (e.g. 2.5 GPA). That’s not enough to make college cheap, but it’s a start. From there, you may be eligible for other state financial aid, including a need-based grant for adult students or merit scholarship for residents of coal-producing counties, just to name two examples. Then again, you could always just apply to Berea College, where no student pays tuition. After adding everything up, if you’re more worried about paying for room and board than tuition, don’t be. After taking you through how to apply for state financial aid, this guide will introduce you to government and nonprofit services that can make Kentucky student life affordable.
A liberal arts college with an annual enrollment of a little over 1,600 students, Berea College has bachelor's degrees in 32 majors and still offers the first and longest college-affiliated nursing program west of the Allegheny Mountains. Berea College does not charge any tuition. All admitted students receive the college's Tuition Promise Scholarship. This scholarship is combined with the student's other sources of financial aid to cover 100 percent of tuition costs for four-years of enrollment. Additional financial assistance is available to cover the cost of room and board, as well as fees and books. Ninety-nine percent of admitted freshmen each year qualify for the Pell Grant; $4,517 was the average grant amount for the 2013-2014 academic year.
Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
More than 11,000 students call Murray State University home, where they can choose from 118 majors and minors and join more than 150 student organizations. Incoming freshmen with excellent academic achievement are automatically considered for the following scholarships: Trustee Scholarship ($10,000/year), Regents Scholarship ($6,000/year), Provost Scholarship ($3,000/year), Carr Scholarship ($1,500/year), and the University Scholarship ($1,000/year). A separate application is necessary to be considered for the university's prestigious Presidential Fellowship award. This fellowship pays for tuition and room and board for up to four-years of study at MSU. The average first-year financial assistance package (2014-2015) was $11,221. Thirty-five percent of MSU students qualified for the Pell Grant for the 2013-2014 school year. The average grant amount was $4,643.
Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
Founded in 1865 as the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Kentucky, the University of Kentucky is now the state's largest college, offering 93 undergraduate programs, 99 masters and 66 doctoral programs. Scholarships for incoming freshmen who are Kentucky residents include the Otis A. Singletary Scholarship and the Presidential Scholarship. Both are four-year scholarships that cover the cost of tuition, with the former also giving room and board allowance, a yearly stipend of $1,500, an iPad2 and a $2,000 stipend for Summer Education Abroad Program. Beginning non-resident freshmen may qualify for the Bluegrass Spirit Scholarship ($8,000 per year for up to four-years). Freshmen from under-represented ethnic groups are considered for the William C. Parker Diversity Scholarship ($5,000 to $15,000).
Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
Located on 345 acres along the Ohio River, the University of Louisville offers its growing student population (15,957 as of the 2014-2015 academic year) the opportunity to major in over 170 areas of study. More than 75 percent of undergraduates receive financial assistance. Incoming freshmen may be considered for the Grawmeyer Scholarship and as Brown Fellows. There are 10 annual awards for each scholarship and both scholarships cover full tuition, room and board, and books. The Martin Luther King Scholars Program covers full in-state tuition for 10 freshmen who are Black/African American or Hispanic/Latino. Beginning undergraduates may also be considered for the McConnell Scholars program, which includes full in-state tuition, an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C. and a five-week study abroad program in China.
Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
In Kentucky, it’s possible to transfer credit earned through the community college system to four-year public colleges and universities. With general education certification, statewide guaranteed transfer of associate degrees, and degree pathways available, Kentucky college transfer students have plenty of options.
Kentucky’s lower-division courses are the easiest to transfer. The state offers three levels of transferable general education with different certifications for each. Students can earn Category Certification, which certifies them in one or more general education areas. Core Certification allows students to be certified in all areas of general education. Finally, Full Certification is earned when students have met the requirements for an associate degree.
Students who have completed an associate degree are certified to meet all of the general education requirements when transferring to a four-year institution. Additionally, students with an associate degree benefit from supportive policies that grant them priority admission and junior status at any Kentucky public university. Some students may also qualify for transfer scholarships.
Students planning to transfer from a community college to a four-year institution can explore degree pathways. These pathways clearly define how students can move courses from an associate degree to a specific bachelor’s degree at a particular university in Kentucky. They are intended to be used by community college students planning coursework prior to transfer.
Kentucky’s KnowHow2Transfer website offers a useful transfer checklist for students who are transferring to a new institution or who plan to do so in the future. To find out how your completed coursework may transfer, view the Kentucky Course Equivalency Guide. This resource offers a school-to-school course equivalency credit guide.
Need financial aid? Of course you do. Stop #1 on the route to a cheap college education should be the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority (KHEAA), which administers state grants and scholarships. You’ll need to register to apply for some of the awards. Every year, KHEAA also publishes a guide called “Affording Higher Education”. It includes a comprehensive list of private scholarships listed by county (there is also a section for statewide scholarships). You can get a sense of how many of those scholarships you’ll need to make college affordable by using KHEAA’s links to FAFSA tools. To get free help filling out the FAFSA, go to College Goal Kentucky, who will ensure you maximize your financial aid package. If you’re in the military, after you peruse KHEAA’s section on federal and state benefits, look into the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs listing of vet outreach programs by school. And if college is still more than a few years away, look into setting aside money into a 529 plan with the Kentucky Education Savings Plan Trust.
Summary: $1,900 is on the table for undergraduate students who want to attend college in the state but require need-based aid to do so.
Eligibility: Kentucky residents enrolled at least part time in an associate or bachelor’s program qualify if they have financial need.
How to Apply: Financial need is determined by the FAFSA, which you must fill out to qualify for the award. Funds are given on a rolling basis starting January 1, so apply as close to that date as possible.
Summary: Want to take college classes after a break from high school? The Go Higher Grant, worth up to $1,000, is reserved for needy students 24 and older who are enrolled on a less than half-time basis.
Eligibility: Kentucky residents can apply if they are going to a Kentucky school to earn their first undergraduate degree.
How to Apply: Submit the FAFSA and a Go Higher Grant application, which is just a short form. Don’t wait — although funds are distributed throughout the year, they are limited, so earlier in the year is better.
Summary: Public college not your thing? The Kentucky Tuition Grant sets the award for students attending private colleges at $3,000.
Eligibility: Full-time enrollees in associate or bachelor’s programs qualify. They must be Kentucky residents with demonstrable financial need.
How to Apply: Submit the FAFSA. Funds are given on a rolling basis starting January 1, so apply as close to that date as possible.
Summary: Aspiring pharmacists from 35 counties qualify for this award, which requires a year of professional service after graduation in return.
Eligibility: Students from coal-producing counties who attend schools of pharmacy in the state are eligible.
How to Apply: Visit the KHEAA website in January to download an application.
Summary: Students can earn $1,800 a year to get their Child Development Associate credential, an associate degree in early childhood education, a baccalaureate in interdisciplinary early childhood education or similar program, or a Kentucky Early Childhood Development Director’s Certificate. They must agree to continue working in the state as an educator after graduation.
Eligibility: Eligibility is limited to Kentucky residents attending a participating school. They must maintain a maximum credit load of nine hours per term while working at least 20 hours a week at an early childhood facility or preschool. Additionally, students must not qualify for other state or federal training programs.
Summary: Residents of Kentucky’s 35 coal-producing counties who have already earned 60 credits toward a baccalaureate can get up to $7,027 annually to complete the last two years of the degree.
Eligibility: To qualify, students must be enrolled at least half time and working toward their first bachelor’s degree at a school in one of the 35 counties (unless they are enrolled in a program that’s only available outside of coal country).
Summary: This purely merit-based scholarship increases with each bump in GPA, starting at $125 a year for a 2.50 high school GPA and maxing out at $500 annually for a 4.0.
Eligibility: Kentucky residents who earn a 2.5 GPA while following the KEES curriculum are eligible. Those who also score a 15 on the ACT (or 830 on the SAT) can tap into bonus KEES funds starting at $36 and going all the way to $500 for a score of 28.
How to Apply: There is no application process; participating colleges in Kentucky automatically credit the award to your account.
Summary: Home-schooled students and GED earners aren’t excluded from the KEES program. They can earn $36 to $500 a year for college depending on how they score on the ACT.
Eligibility: Eligibility kicks in when a Kentucky resident scores a 15 on the ACT (or 830 on the SAT). GED students must earn the GED by age 23 and then enroll in a college program within five years of that date.
How to Apply: If your college participates, contact its financial aid office to make sure your enrollment is reported to KHEAA.
Summary: The AP/IB/CAI Award is a merit/need hybrid open to any students who qualified for free or subsidized school lunches during high school. Such students, if they score at least a 3 on an Advanced Placement exam, a 5 on an International Baccalaureate exam or an “e” on a Cambridge Advanced International exam, will receive an extra $200 a year for college. Awards go up as scores go up, and there’s no limit, so students can benefit from taking multiple exams.
Eligibility: Those who earn a 2.5 GPA while following the KEES curriculum are eligible, assuming they meet the other qualifications listed above.
How to Apply: There is no application process; participating colleges automatically credit the award to your account.
Summary: Why wait until after high school to get financial aid? The Mary Jo Young Scholarship gives $52 per college credit to juniors in Kentucky public high schools (and upperclassmen in private high schools) enrolled in college-level courses.
Eligibility: To be eligible, Kentucky residents must qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches and be in a dual-credit course at a college in the state.
How to Apply: Create a MyKHEAA account, and fill out an application before the start of the school year.
Summary: This award gives $5,000 a year to students who agree to teach in Kentucky after receiving their initial teaching certification.
Eligibility: Kentucky residents majoring in teacher education are eligible if they are also members of an ethnic minority and enrolled full time at a Kentucky college.
How to Apply: To claim funds, contact the Kentucky Department of Education’s Division of Educator Quality and Diversity, and follow the school’s deadline.
Summary: Students who agree to teach in Kentucky for a semester after graduating from a teacher education program can get $2,500 for the first semester of their program. A two-semester commitment can net them $5,000, and so on.
Eligibility: Kentucky residents enrolled full time in a participating school‘s teacher education program qualify, though they must have demonstrable financial need as determined by the FAFSA.
Summary: Offered through the Kentucky Higher Education Student Loan Corporation, these loans are meant to fill any remainder after other grants, scholarships and federal loans are applied. The interest rates are fixed at 4.95 to 7.59 percent, and repayment can be deferred until after graduation.
Eligibility: Residents of Kentucky and a handful of Southern states are eligible once enrolled at an eligible school, though they may need a cosigner.
How to Apply: Get your financial info together, and create an account to see what you can borrow.
Summary: Twenty-four prosecutors and 24 public defenders representing Kentucky’s eight Supreme Court districts get up to $675 a year to pay off student loans.
Eligibility: Members of the Kentucky Bar Association earning less than $55,000 a year can qualify if they have certain federal loans and are not in default on them.
How to Apply: Fill out an application by February. It includes forms verifying college enrollment and debt.
Summary: The Kentucky Office of Rural Health funds this program that places recent graduates in health professional shortage areas (HPSAs) in exchange for loan repayment. Physicians, dentists and pharmacists can get $80,000 in loan assistance; physician assistants, nurse practitioners and mental health professionals can get $40,000; and registered nurses and dental hygienists can get $20,000.
Eligibility: To be eligible, healthcare workers must work in an HPSA at a site with primary care that does not turn away patients who cannot pay.
How to Apply: This is a matching fund program, so you’ll need a qualified employer to sponsor you. Then, you’ll need to fill out an application and loan verification form; your sponsor must also fill out a form.
Summary: Get the entire cost of a public college education paid for as a member of the Kentucky Air National Guard.
Eligibility: Contact your Kentucky Air National Guard representative for specific eligibility requirements.
How to Apply: Contact your Kentucky Air National Guard representative.
Summary: Dependents and spouses of veterans killed or disabled in action can attend public college in Kentucky without paying tuition.
Eligibility: Both the applicant and the veteran must be Kentucky residents. Spouses applying for the award cannot be remarried.
How to Apply: Submit an application to the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs along with several forms intended to verify your relationship to the service member and your eligibility for the award. These include a DD214, a death certificate and Kentucky income tax returns.
Summary: Kentucky National Guard members can receive a scholarship up to the price of tuition to attend a public college in the state.
Eligibility: Active Kentucky National Guard members are eligible once they’ve completed basic training.
How to Apply: Log in to the Department of Military Affairs to apply.
Summary: Kentucky residents attending Eastern Kentucky University, Lindsey Wilson College, Murray State University, University of Kentucky or Western Kentucky University can work part-time jobs to pay off a portion of their college costs.
Eligibility: Students must be enrolled on at least a half-time basis to qualify.
How to Apply: Show an interest in taking part by contacting your financial aid office.
Tuition is often the cheapest part of a college education. It’s living expenses that really add up. So how to make college life affordable? It depends on your financial circumstances. Those with low to moderate incomes may be well-served by flipping through the Kentucky Housing Corporation Community Resource Guide, which catalogs up to five types of programs in each county: education services, emergency shelter and assistance, medical and mental health services, permanent housing, and mortgage and credit counseling.
Many specific government initiatives are explained at the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services. For instance, you’ll find the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps families pay their utility bills. You’ll connect to the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP), which subsidizes day care and preschool so adult students don’t have to take their children with them to class. And you’ll learn that through presumptive eligibility for pregnant women, you can get two months of prenatal care for free while your Medicaid application is processed.
Want to see if you’d actually qualify for government benefits? Fill out a questionnaire on Benefind to see if you’re eligible for three programs: Medicaid, which can reduce healthcare costs for you and/or your family all the way to $0; the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps); and the Kentucky Transitional Assistance Program, which distributes money to families who cannot afford to pay their bills.
All of the information available can sometimes make the application process for social services more confusing than it actually is. But Community Action Kentucky will help you tap into state social services. Find the nearest agency, then call to see what benefits are in your area and how you can qualify.
Each school approaches on-campus accommodations a little differently, but Kentucky’s schools have particularly diverse options. Murray State assigns every enrollee at the university to a smaller residential college a la Harry Potter, each with its own vibe. Even more interesting, commuter students are also assigned to a residential college, so you’ll have a home base while at school even if you don’t live there. Berea College, meanwhile, places all students under the age of 23 in a residence hall with professional staff members who supervise resident assistants, support students and keep everything humming. Though Berea stocks its campus with resources, it is also quite generous with scholarships — in addition to its No Tuition Promise, Berea offers scholarships to cover housing. Looking for something on campus but not quite so intense? The University of Kentucky has graduate and family housing that nontraditional students can also use. UK does a great job of providing housing options — including apartments, townhomes, duplexes and houses — that meet all budgets. Finally, University of Louisville’s Cardinal Covenant gives low-income students the opportunity to waive the cost of room and board (as well as tuition and books).
Before making a decision about whether to live on campus, look at a net price calculator for your particular school. Then, dig further into the numbers and compare all the costs affected by your decision to live on campus (e.g., utilities, gas and food) by punching in some digits on this CalcXML tool.
You may be better off paying off-campus rent (even with the accompanying fuel and utility costs) if you’re not interested in the extras that on-campus living provides. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re on your own. University of Louisville actively provides assistance via the Office of Student Involvement, which has set up an Off Campus Student Services page on the website. It details everything from where to get free donuts and coffee to carpools to off-campus housing spots. The University of Kentucky, meanwhile, has created its own housing and roommate search tool in the mode of Zillow. Don’t take such services for granted. Some schools, like West Kentucky Community & Technical College, which doesn’t have on-campus housing, also doesn’t offer much in the way of help with finding off-campus accommodation. In cases like this, you’ll want to look on KentuckyRents.com or a college-specific site like CampusRent.com. If rent isn’t something you can afford at the moment, skim through the Kentucky Housing Corporation Community Resource Guide for shelters in your area.
Even with Kentucky’s low energy prices and a moderate climate, you still have to pay for heating and cooling costs, not to mention water, trash and internet. One way to cover utilities is by living on campus, where these expenses are incorporated into the overall price tag. But if you’re living off campus and paying bills is an issue, it’s worth seeing whether your financial status qualifies you for two locally administered federal programs: the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP). The former subsidizes heating bills in the winter for families earning below 130% of the poverty line. The latter, which serves families at below 200% of the poverty line, sets up free home audits to look for ways to minimize energy usage, then follows through with free repairs. To access one or both programs, find your local community action agency, which is charged with administering the programs, and apply. If you don’t qualify for either program, keep an eye out for deals offered by utility companies, though many of these peg their eligibility requirements to LIHEAP or WAP eligibility. Nonetheless, you can still find ways to save. Kentucky Power has a lighting calculator that shows the effect flipping the light switch has on your bill.
University of Kentucky and University of Louisville have a medical center and teaching hospital, respectively. Both also have dentistry schools. UK has a student clinic through which enrollees can get dental care for up to 50% less than it would cost them elsewhere, and the University of Louisville has a similar arrangement that includes a dental hygiene clinic. If you don’t live near Lexington or Louisville and you need some cheap dental work, find a dentist chair at FreeDentalCare.us. For all types of medical help, your first option is a campus clinic, since many schools, including Berea College, assess a health fee that entitles students to unlimited acute care. This is especially true of mental care, as the majority of schools have free counseling services. If you need more options, peruse the Kentucky Department of Insurance website to find a listing of free clinics in the state. To contact a mental health professional, go to the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services’s page on community mental health centers or the Kentucky Housing Corporation Community Resource Guide, which lists medical and mental health services by county.
Kids can be expensive, especially if you have to go to school when they’re not yet of school age. To accommodate nontraditional college students, some campuses have child care centers. University of Kentucky has two: Woodland Early Learning Center and the Early Childhood Laboratory. Elsewhere, Berea College’s Child Development Laboratory and the University of Louisville’s Early Learning Campus both prioritize student parents. And Western Kentucky University even runs a Head Start and Early Head Start program through its child care center, which means free enrollment for those with low incomes. If you can’t access child care at your school, or if you need lower-cost options, search for providers at the Kentucky Integrated Child Care System. If you want to be assured of paying a reduced price and you qualify for government aid, you can check the box to filter out centers that don’t accept Child Care Assistance Program subsidies.
Most of the colleges on our list have something in the way of campus transportation. A few even connect their students to public transportation networks. Berea College discourages car ownership (and even prohibits freshmen from having cars on campus), and instead promotes a couple of interesting programs. One is Zimride, a ridesharing network for students who commute to campus or who just want to get around town. Residents of the school’s Ecovillage can even reserve a hybrid car for free for a few hours to run to town. Murray State students have different options, and they can use the local bus system‘s “community route” for free or pay a cheap fare on its “gold route,” but then again, so can anyone else. University of Kentucky has its own bus system, but its students can also explore Lexington for free on the Lextran local transit system, and University of Louisville students have a similar opportunity via the Transit Authority of River City. Western Kentucky University doesn’t offer free public bus passes, but it does have its own dedicated bus lines that make forays into Bowling Green hotspots. They’re free for students and operate six afternoons a week. WKU students wanting more options can buy a GO bg Transit student pass.
Even if you live on campus and have a meal plan, you might not have enough cash on your card to get through the semester. If you find yourself short on money for nutritious meals at any point in the academic year, you probably qualify for government or charitable food assistance. Fortunately, many schools are battling food insecurity by stocking campus food pantries. The University of Kentucky has the Big Blue Pantry, where students can get free grocery items by showing their ID — no questions asked. Murray State has Racers Helping Racers. And Western Kentucky has, simply, the WKU Food Pantry. If your campus doesn’t have a food pantry, or if it’s not enough to meet your needs, contact the Kentucky Association of Food Banks to find local resources, or do your own search at FoodPantries.org. Have a baby either here or on the way? The Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services is charged with distributing WIC program funds, which pay for basic food items each month.
SEE ALSO: Our Encyclopedic Guide to Saving Money as a College Student.
Living in Louisville is far from expensive. In fact, the cost of living in Derby City is below the national average, not bad for Kentucky’s cultural capital. Students at the University of Louisville can lower their costs even further by taking advantage of free public transportation via TARC and using the school’s dental clinics to get lower-cost oral healthcare. Additionally, since all uninsured University of Louisville students are charged a $150 primary care health fee per semester, they are entitled to as many doctor visits as they need, as well as to cheap rates for prescriptions and birth control.
There are plenty of nonprofits and city agencies offering social services to River City residents, including child care, college preparation, financial assistance and even scholarships. Here are the best places to go to find help:
There’s more. You just have to know what you need. When you do, visit the Metro United Way to find it.
The University of Kentucky, with its massive student body (including the 12 members of its nationally renowned men’s basketball team), is large enough to drive Lexington’s social scene and give the city a decidedly collegiate flair. UK students shouldn’t have to worry too much about living costs, which are below the national average, especially after they factor in free transportation on Lextran. Berea College is close enough to Lexington (40 miles away) to merit an occasional trip to Costco or, less fun, an appointment at the UK Dentistry Clinic, which fixes toothaches without financial headaches.
With one of the highest rates of bachelor’s degrees per capita in the country, Lexington’s residents value higher education. That’s reflected in the fact that it has two community foundations — both of which are listed below — providing scholarships to college-bound seniors. For assistance with more than just tuition, the city and state have devoted agencies that connect low-income households to state and federal funds:
At around 60,000 people, Bowling Green is about a fifth of the size of Lexington. A full third of the people who do live there are Western Kentucky University students. That bodes well for the cost of living, with most amenities geared toward the college student budget. Housing is a particularly good area to keep costs low.
The city’s small population is reflected in the relative paucity of nonprofit and government resources available. There are several great starting points, however, if you need support paying for college and living expenses, one of which is at WKU itself:
The resources listed above are the best starting points. But if you need more, the United Way of Southern Kentucky has also assembled a useful directory of health and human services that can be used in tandem with the Community Resource Guide mentioned above.