A Guide to Funding College for Illinois Students

The cost of funding a college education continues to rise every year. Many Illinoisans cannot afford to pay out of pocket to attend a university and the options for funding that education can often be complicated.

Below you will find a great starter guide that breaks down different ways to fund a higher education along with various types of scholarships, grants, and loans that are available to Illinois families.

The Illinois Student Assistance Commission

ISAC can help students navigate through the college and financial planning process, so you get to the school and program that’s right for you with a smart financial plan to manage college costs. Here are a few of the tools they offer:

Scholarship Programs

Scholarships are gifted aid that is often based on a student’s academic performance, specific field of study, or financial need. Many scholarships have certain criteria that must be met to obtain and keep the funding, so be sure to fully understand the terms and conditions of a scholarship before applying.

The State of Illinois funds various scholarships, most of which are based on fields of study. Below you will find a list of all the scholarships offered by the State of Illinois.

Minority Teachers of Illinois
Amount: Up to $7,500

Students must be a qualified minority applicant and plan to teach at an Illinois Board of Education accredited school with at least 30% minority students.

Illinois Special Education Teacher Tuition Waiver (SETTW) Program
Amount: All tuition and mandatory fees

This scholarship waives all tuition at any public university in Illinois for students who plan to teach special education at a school accredited by the Illinois State Board of Education.

Early Childhood Access Consortium for Equity Scholarship Program
Amount: Varies

Applicants must currently work or have worked in a licensed childcare facility and seeking an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in a childcare-related field.

Displaced Energy Worker Dependent Transition Scholarship Program
Amount: One full year of tuition and fees

This program covers a full year of tuition for children who would otherwise not be able to attend school due to a parent’s job loss at a retired power plant or coal mine.

Post-Master of Social Work School Social Work Professional Educator License Scholarship Program
Amount: Full year of tuition and fees

Applicants must be social workers with a master’s in social work who want to obtain their Illinois Professional Educator License with an Endorsement in School Social Work.

Golden Apple Scholars
Amount: Up to $2,500 as a freshman/sophomore and up to $5,000 as a junior or senior

To qualify, students must be pursuing a teaching degree and teach for at least five years following graduation at a qualified School of Need.

Deceased, Disabled, and MIA/POW Scholarship
Amount: Full tuition and fees for up to four years

This scholarship is for the dependents of veterans who are either Missing In Action, a Prisoner of War, died while on active duty, 100% disabled due to service-connected disabilities or died as a result of a service-connected disability.

Nursing Education Scholarship Program (NESP)
Amount: Covers all nursing-related coursework

Applicants must be pursuing a nursing-related degree and begin working as a licensed nurse in the state of Illinois following graduation. This program is also designed for those with the greatest financial need.

Other Scholarships

There are a variety of other scholarships that can be awarded by area of study, merit, need, or other qualifications, such as ancestry. Here are some resources to browse the vast options of scholarships available.

This site provides dozens of scholarships available for students in Illinois. It includes a brief description of the qualifications, the amount offered, the deadline, and a link to apply.

Access Scholarships
Explore 50+ scholarship options available for students across the United States. All scholarships include eligibility requirements, the amount offered, the deadline, and a link to apply.

Illinois State Funded Grants

Grants are considered a “gift aid” that does not require any repayment. Amounts are typically determined by need and the institution attended. Here is a list of various grants funded through the state of Illinois.

Monetary Award Program (MAP)
Amount: Varies

MAP recipients are based on their financial needs determined by the applicant’s FAFSA.

Illinois Veteran Grant (IVG)
Amount: Tuition and mandatory fees

Eligible applicants have served at least one year of active duty in the United States military. Applicants who are members of the Illinois National Guard or those who serve in the Reserve component of the Armed Forces may also be eligible.

Higher Education License Plate (HELP) Program
Amount: Varies

This need-based program provides grants through the Illinois Secretary of State’s office with funds from special collegiate license plates. Applicants must attend an Illinois college or university that provides the special plates to be eligible.

AIM HIGH Grant Pilot Program
Amount: Funding determined by the university

To be eligible for this program, applicants must attend one of Illinois public four-year universities, and demonstrate financial need through FAFSA.


Loans are a way to fund your education that will require full repayment, oftentimes with added interest.

Federal Loans
To apply for federal loans, students must first fill out their FAFSA application. Students with financial need may be eligible for subsidized loans in which the federal government pays any accrued interest. Unsubsidized loans require interest to be paid by the student taking out the loan.

Direct PLUS Loans
This is a federal program for parents who wish to take out a loan to pay for their child’s education.

Private Loans
Loans can also be acquired through private institutions, such as banks, credit unions, or state-based organizations. Private loans may be more expensive than federal loans and all terms and conditions are set by the lender.