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A Guide to Financial Aid & Scholarships for Cornell Students

Grants, Student Loans, & Fellowships

Wouldn’t it be great to graduate from college debt-free? Cornell University has recently taken a new direction in its financial aid initiatives to help students achieve that goal. Starting with the 2009-10 academic year, Cornell financial aid will no longer offer need-based loans to students whose annual family income is less than $75,000 annually. Instead, grants and scholarships will be the main push for financial assistance. In addition, Cornell financial aid will set an annual cap on loans at $3,000 for students whose annual family income ranges from $75,000 to $120,000. These changes are intended to help students graduate without the burdens of major student loan debt.

Interestingly enough, Cornell University does NOT offer scholarships based on merit, athletic ability, or other talent. Instead, financial aid is awarded based on family size, number of siblings who are current full-time undergraduate students, family income and assets, and any special circumstances that impact the family’s finances.

Types of Financial Aid Offered to Cornell Students

Cornell students can expect to find two types of aid options:


  1. Self-help. These financial aid options include student loans and student employment opportunities like the federal work study program. As part of the financial aid process, self-help aid is awarded FIRST.
  2. Grants/Scholarships. This is free money that students do not have to repay. These are awarded after self-help aid is assessed. Grants and scholarships are available from the school, from federal and state sources, and from private sources including business and organizations.

Federal and State Aid for Cornell Students

The first step to federal financial assistance is filling out and submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Once the FAFSA is processed and federal aid determined, the application information is automatically passed along for state aid consideration.

Some federal and state grants offered include:


  • Federal Pell Grant—awarded to undergraduates with high financial need. Amount awarded ranges from $400 – $4310.

  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Award (FSEOG)—awarded to undergraduates with exceptional financial need. Amount awarded ranges from $500 – $4,000.

  • Academic Competitiveness Grant (ACG)—awarded to freshmen or sophomores who receive a Pell Grant in the same award year. Awarded $750 in the first year; $1,300 in the second year.

  • National SMART Grant—awarded to students in their junior or senior year who receive a Pell Grant. Amount awarded is up to $4,000 each year.

  • New York State Tuition Assistance Program (TAP)—eligible students must be New York residents enrolled in college full-time. Student’s annual family income must be less than $80,001 to be considered. Amount awarded ranges from $500 – $5,000.

Federal work-study programs are also available as Cornell financial aid. These programs allow students to apply for any on-campus job. Students can also choose preapproved off-campus jobs, if desired. It is the student’s responsibility to conduct the job search. Check with the Student Employment office for job postings. Students are paid bi-weekly. Money earned is used to pay college expenses.

The State of New York also offers the Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP). This program awards competitive grants to Cornell University to assist students who come from academically or economically disadvantaged environments. Students must be New York residents working toward a degree to be considered. Award amounts vary.

Institutional Grants and Scholarships

Next, Cornell students can inquire about institutional grants and scholarships. Options include university grants, endowed scholarships, graduate fellowships, or outside scholarships.

The Cornell University Grant is awarded to students with financial need. Students are typically awarded university grants AFTER non-university funds, loans, and work-study assignments have been determined. Amounts vary and are determined on a case-by-case basis.

Cornell students who qualify for financial aid may be eligible for one of the university’s endowed scholarships. These scholarships are awarded to students who are eligible for grant aid. Endowed scholarships are made available from the generosity of individuals dedicated to Cornell higher education. Scholarship amounts vary.

Graduate students should also inquire about university fellowships and grants. Grants and fellowships are donated by generous individuals, organizations, and corporations. Example of a graduate fellowship and grant is:

Cornell University Provost’s Diversity Fellowship: awarded to doctoral students who come from different racial or ethnic backgrounds, such as African-American, Alaskan Native, American Indian, Pacific Islander, Puerto Rican, Afro-Caribbean, or Mexican-American.

Cornell Sigma Xi Grants: awarded to graduate students for research funding. Amount awarded ranges from $200 – $800.

Outside Scholarships for Cornell Students

Outside scholarships are acceptable for paying college expenses. However, the responsibility of searching and applying for an outside scholarship lies with the student. Once an outside scholarship is received, Cornell students are required to notify the Office of Financial Aid & Student Employment. Search the StateUniversity.com financial aid section and other websites for information on outside scholarships.

Loan Options for Cornell Students

Finally, some Cornell students can still opt for students loans based on the school’s new financial aid initiative. Cornell loans fall into two categories: need-based and non need-based.

Need-based loans include the Federal Direct Subsidized Loan, which offers a 6% fixed interest rate; the Perkins Loan, which offers a 5% fixed interest rate; and, the Cornell University Loan, which offers an 8% fixed interest rate. None of these loans accrue interest while the student is still enrolled in college.

Non need-based loans include the Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan, with a 6.8% fixed interest rate; and, the Federal Direct Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students (PLUS), which is a loan taken out by parents, at a 7.9% fixed interest rate.

Another option is the Cornell Installment Plan (CIP). This plan helps students pay for college expenses through installments of 5, 10, or 12 months. CIP is a no interest, no finance charge plan. A small enrollment fee is required.

Key Points to Remember about Cornell Financial Aid

  • With Cornell’s new initiative come new instructions and requirements. Be mindful of any new requirements and eligibility criteria.
  • It is the student’s responsibility to conduct a job search for any work-study programs and student employment opportunities. The Student Employment Office would be a good place to start.
  • Students are responsible for identifying and applying for outside scholarships, and notify financial aid staff of any outside scholarships received.
  • If a loan is required, check all options through Cornell before considering a private lender. The university’s installment plan could be an alternative option.
  • Paying for college can be overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be. Cornell financial aid staff is available to assist students as needed. Their official web site is www.finaid.cornell.edu.

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