Financial Aid Advice

If you are looking for financial aid advice, then you are already steps ahead of many other students. Plenty of people believe mistakenly believe that they do not qualify for financial aid at the undergraduate level, and often a simple phone call or written application would be required to prove otherwise.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) will probably be the most important document you fill out. Most institutions, undergraduate, and advanced industrial design schools require you to fill one out before you even apply. And if you read the full title in between those parentheses, then you already know it will not cost you anything to do so.

The deadline for the FAFSA for application to the fall – spring academic year expires on the last day of March. This deadline can be slightly difficult to manage due to the fact that it precedes tax day, in mid-April. If you are still a dependent of your parents or under 18, then you will need to ask your parents well ahead of the deadline to finish their taxes early so they can use the information on your FAFSA.

The process does not take very long, especially if you have all of the information with you. If your parents are not well organized, then it may be a good idea to navigate to the FAFSA website and take a look at the documents that will be required for the application. Information regarding one’s newest tax return is without a doubt the most important of these documents; it will contain almost all of the information needed. In addition, more recent info on bank accounts, loans, deficits, and royalties will also be required.

Once you finish the FAFSA, your application will be reviewed and you will be given a score. That score determines how much federal aid you are eligible to receive, and usually how much institution aid you are eligible to receive. A score of $0, for instance, means that you have been determined to be unable to contribute toward your higher education. As a result, the federal government will normally award you some money, such as one of the Pell grants for undergraduate education, and offer you a student loan.
In addition, the program you are applying to will be able to interpret that score and also determine how much aid their office will award you. Almost all programs will work hard to request only the amount of money FAFSA has deemed the student can contribute at that time.

Often, there will be a number of strategies offered to students, including aid, federal/state grants, loans, work – study programs, and some other options. It is almost always a good idea for the student to enroll in a work – study program, as this helps the student learn valuable professional skills and decreases the loans the student needs to take out. It also shows the financial aid office that the student is willing to go the extra mile for a good education.

Most people either do not consider financial aid as a possibility or they think that the entire outcome is out of their hands. But they would be wrong about some particularly important ways they can assure they receive the maximum amount of financial assistance possible.

Funding one’s education – becoming actively engaged in either decreasing or providing for some of the cost – will help tremendously in the long run. Become aware of all of the options available to you, and start making practical and reasonable decisions early.


Grants are somewhat difficult to find at the undergraduate level (except basic Pell Grants), but they are plentiful for graduate students, and offer great advantage. Grants are not need-based, like scholarships. That means that no matter who you are or what your financial situation, you can qualify for grants from industrial design schools.

Grants are often undervalued, perhaps because they are thrown into the scholarship category.

The two main reasons students shy away from grant opportunities are:

  1. The work required to apply: When applying for a grant, the student will usually be required to submit a proposal that fits within the project guidelines. This requires independent work and some careful consideration.
  2. The application will be reviewed by a committee of some sort, which will appraise your potential value for the purpose of the grant/award. This can be extremely stressful.

These two difficulties can seem very difficult to surmount, but they are well worth the effort and work required. Since grants do not have to be paid back, like loans, and they can be given to any person whom the committee deems worthy, they have many advantages to other forms of financial aid.


It is not as difficult as you probably think to receive a scholarship. When they hear that someone landed a scholarship, most people assume a few things about that person. They assume that the student is exceptionally qualified, shows promise, has talent, and is dedicated. The crowd thinks, “Everyone else is paying for their education, but that person is so good he is being paid to come here!”

It turns the tables a bit.

Scholarships set apart the responsible and organized industrial design students from the run-of-the-mill. But the fact of the matter is that for the amount of respect one receives, the amount of organization and effort required to find, target, apply, and receive one may not exactly meet up to the reputable esteem. It’s easier than you think.

For every field, there are plenty of scholarships to be had, and not nearly as many people know or care about them as they should. This is most likely due to a few common misconceptions, which I think it would be quite worth it to debunk.

  • Misconception 1 – I need to be a stellar student to be eligible for all scholarships. There are some scholarships for academic achievement. In order to receive these, you often need that 3.95 grade point average. However, there are a slew of others that reward a number of other attributes/actions, and many of these have no GPA requirements whatsoever.
  • Misconception 2 – I need to be involved in a number of charitable organizations before anyone will even look at my scholarship application. Charity is another assumption people make of scholarship recipients. “If he won a scholarship, then he must be into charity work… She probably volunteers for the Red Cross or something, because she is on the Macy M Graham Scholarship – where does she find the time for it?” Once again, there are a few scholarships that reward charitable acts, but these are not as numerous as you would think.
  • Misconception 3 – I would need to be poor to go to school on a scholarship. Again, some scholarships are given on a need basis, but there are plenty of exceptions. Notice a pattern here? Every single one of these misconceptions is representative of a person who has probably heard of one or two scholarships and then stereotypes against the rest. They tend to think that all scholarships must be representative of one or more of these superhuman characteristics, which immediately disqualifies them from the competition.

People who are not familiar with scholarships tend to lump grades, charity, and financial duress under the general heading “scholarship,” but at industrial design schools, awards work much differently.

In addition to being given out for the misconceived notions above, there are normally a number of other scholarships awarded for talent in particular subfields, for innovation, ideation, or team-building and leadership. The IDSA’s graduate scholarship is one of those, which is based “solely on the excellence of the work students have submitted.” That means you don’t even need a large portfolio. You just need one solid project.

Scholarships build up your resume and prepare you to land more opportunities in academia, and outside of it. Everyone, no matter who they are – employers, designers, student – people respect grants, scholarships, awards, etc. They do not know how easy it is to win. And once you receive your first, it is a downward slope toward free rides and stellar accolades, forming the runway to your career.

Student Loans

Student loans can be extremely useful, even necessary, in taking the next step in your education. But they can be used very poorly and irresponsibly, leading to significant debt and possibly bankruptcy after school. Used correctly, this resource will help you lay the foundation that will lead you successfully through industrial design schools to a successful career. It will teach you how to manage your loans responsibly rather than be managed by them.

Fortunately, industrial design is a fairly stable and lucrative career. Degrees prepare students with definitive skills that have a decent starting price on the market, which places graduates in at least a good situation once joining the job market. With a BA in industrial design, you can expect to pull in over $40,000, at least.

But there have been a number of recent changes that have made student loans a much less attractive option. First, interest rates have skyrocketed. So whereas students in the past would not need to worry much about “drowning” in debt after graduation, now it is much easier to do so.

For now, let’s assume a worst-case scenario. As an industrial design school graduate, you may have some great-paying job options out there, but typically, there will be some jobs available to you that will not pay well in the short run but will be more likely to lead to a successful career. You do not want to be forced by your student loans to take a dead-end job. Avoid this destitute future by assuming you will make a lower figure at the entry level than the average. Let’s say you take an internship at a prestigious but small firm for $35,000 a year.

Now, let’s see what would happen if you had paid for the entirety of your education with student loans. At an undergraduate institution, that could mean about $25,000 per year, easily. Over four years, that means $100,000 in debt, which starts to accrue interest in that year. Federal loans will begin to accrue 8% interest at that time, resulting in $8,000 annually in interest alone. Paying $12,000 per year, or $1,000 per month, will pay off the debt in over 10 years.

At an industrial design school like Pratt, education costs slightly under $60,000 per year. Pratt is on the high end of ID schools, but it is not completely unreasonable to expect a cost of education like this. After three years, your loans come to $180,000. At 8% interest, that loan will start to add $14,400 per year after graduation, which means that paying off $20,000 per year of the debt would take over 15 years.

Now, let’s apply the average salary of entry-level industrial designers to these figures to see what kind of a life you would be walking into after graduation. Making $35,000 per year and spending $12,000 on student loans would bring your actual salary down to around $20,000. That income is close to the poverty line. Graduating from Pratt, you would need to make another $8,000 per year to “enjoy” the same quality of life.

What does this mean for industrial design students? Do not only use student loans to pay for your education! Student loans are useful tools that, historically, have been helpful. As financial regulations change, getting in over your head in debt becomes more risky, and there are no easy backup plans. Be careful!

Student Finances

Looking around yourself at a party, you may see several or even scores of peers relaxing, enjoying themselves, even being just a tad irresponsible. But you can bet that a large portion of them think about their finances and their future careers – to plan, prepare, and start working toward their goals. It does not take a lot of time or consideration to start setting the foundation for an easy life as an industrial designer after college. We’re about to show you how. Sure, people wait to consider their financial obligations all the time. And yes, many of those people end up fighting themselves out of debt.

So why wait? If someone were to give you the option of being stressed beyond all reason for the first three years after college or landing on your feet and successfully dealing with all your financial affairs within two months after receiving your degree, which would you choose? Here’s how to land on your feet.

First, you need to understand your financial situation. Some students are so fearful regarding debts, obligations, or the future that they do not turn to look at reality. As they begin to avoid their responsibilities, they fall into dangerous cycles of procrastination, which hurts grades, achievement, and most important – happiness.

So the first real rule of college is: happiness requires responsibility. Yes, we know you have heard this before, probably from parents. We are not your parents, yet we are saying the same thing, due to the state of the economy, education, and industrial design as a career. Knowing that financial flexibility is a huge part of long-term success in the field, we suggest you start considering your debts, assets, and obligations now. Open a dialogue with parents regarding their expectations and their financial commitments to you.

That does not mean you need to wrest control of your college education payments from your parents, but it does entail some involvement. Even if you are not receiving financial aid, it will still improve your self-respect to ask them about their expectations regarding payment after college. Would they support you if you took a low-paying internship in New York in order to gain work experience? Would they be willing to pay for your advanced degree at industrial design schools?

This conversation does not need to take place in a single day. In fact, it would not be effective if it did. Expect to open a dialogue, asserting that you want the best for your future and you want their money to go toward the best possible use.

Once you know what your parents are willing to do to support you in your career, you will be able to start planning steps toward your future. In addition, you may be able to suggest some better ways they could spend their money. For instance, if they are paying full price for your education but are unwilling to pay any more support for a graduate degree in industrial design, you could suggest that you participate in a work – study program now, so that they would support you later, either to pay off student loans after your graduate.

You will also want to consider summer internships at industrial design firms, or possibly positions that continue throughout the year. Taking these positions will advance your career while you are still finishing school. Once you graduate, you will likely be able to skip entry-level positions entirely, or have balanced your educational expertise with some real-world experience. That combination is extremely valuable, preparing the way for an MFA or a lucrative career, whichever you want.