"Pell Grants and student loans are the most well-known (financial aid programs)," says Lee Andes, assistant director for financial aid for the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. "State aid is one you don't hear about as often in the papers or newsrooms. But if students ask their financial aid office or do some searching on the Internet, they can usually find what they need to know."
Overlooking state-sponsored aid can be a huge oversight. A survey by the National Association of State Student Grant & Aid Programs shows that states handed out a whopping $10.8 billion in financial aid for the 2009 to 2010 school year. That's on top of federal grants, scholarships and loans.
Andes says that students may not have to compete for certain state aid. Awards such as the Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant -- a renewable scholarship of up to $2,650 for state residents who attend a private, nonprofit in-state institution -- are automatically given to every student who qualifies and applies while funds are available. Several other states, including Florida, Georgia and Texas, offer similar programs.
Students can research their state's aid programs by contacting their state's higher education board or by speaking with their school's financial aid office.