The landscape of financial aid will change in 2017, and Sterling College’s commitment to affordability is stronger than ever. Here’s what you and your family need to know about financial aid at Sterling College so that you can pay for college without taking on too much student debt.


#1 – We’re mission driven.


The commitment to affordability at Sterling College is directly tied to our mission of environmental stewardship education. It’s important to recognize that the most important measure of success for Sterling College is the collective contribution that our graduates make as environmental stewards. This priority contrasts with that of for-profit colleges (who focus on their own bottom line) and also contrasts with the emphasis that many public and private colleges put on the median salaries their graduates earn.

By keeping student debt to a minimum, Sterling enables graduates to focus on environmental stewardship rather than on maximizing income to pay back loans. The average amount of student debt for Sterling College students who graduated in 2015 was $18,680, compared to the national average of $35,000.



#2 – Tuition is billed on a sliding scale.


Every student will need to make a financial contribution towards paying tuition at Sterling College. However, the amount of that contribution depends on a student’s financial situation and ability to pay. In 2016, 62 percent of the student body qualified for a federal Pell Grant, and the College awarded need-based Sterling Grants ranging from $2,000 to $32,500 per year.


#3 – You (still) need to file your FAFSA.


Like most colleges, Sterling uses the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in order to measure eligibility for need-based financial aid. Even if you don’t think that you will qualify for federal aid, you still need to file the FAFSA in order to receive ANY need-based financial aid, including Sterling Grants. When you submit the FAFSA Sterling receives your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) which we use as a benchmark for your capacity to pay.

Returning students take note – you need to file a new FAFSA every year. If your financial situation changes, as measured by the EFC, the amount of need-based aid that you receive may go up or down proportional to the change. Sterling’s FAFSA code is 014991.


pavel-2#4 Happily, the FAFSA just got MUCH easier to fill out.


The HUGE change in the financial aid landscape for 2017 has everything to do with a new FAFSA policy called Prior Prior Year. Starting on October 1st, 2016, students can use tax information from 2015 to apply for financial aid for 2017 – looking two years back, or Prior Prior.

Previously, students had to use tax information from the most recent tax year, and wait until January 1st to do so. Because tax information for the prior year often wasn’t available until April, and students had to make their college decision by May, this often led to a last-minute crunch that was stressful for students and their families – and also for financial aid administrators!

The upshot for students is that you can file your FAFSA much earlier than before, and make better use of something called the IRS data retrieval tool, which automatically populates your FAFSA with tax information that’s already on file. There are a bunch of helpful news articles –  – like this one – about Prior Prior, and it’s worthwhile to spend some time reading up about the change.

Our Admission folks are here to help you with any FAFSA questions you might have.


#5 – You have options beyond the FAFSA.


In some cases, the FAFSA might not accurately reflect your level of financial need. If you feel that this is the case, you can let us know about special circumstances and we will work with you to determine a more reasonable tuition contribution. In some cases we can adjust the Expected Family Contribution within the FAFSA system, and in some cases we can adjust the amount of your Sterling Grant.

To let us know about special circumstances you can fill out the Sterling College Financial Aid Application or contact Barb Stuart, Director of Financial Aid.


pavel-3#6 – Merit scholarships are available.


Most of the financial aid awarded by Sterling College is in the form of need-based grants. However, merit scholarships are also available, and range from one-time grants of $500 all the way up to full-tuition scholarships that are renewable each year.

Your application for admission also serves as your application for most merit scholarships, which are awarded to students at the time of their acceptance to Sterling.  A complete list of Sterling College scholarships is available here.

Many Sterling College students also receive merit scholarships from organizations that are not affiliated with Sterling, such as corporations and foundations. Sterling is proud to partner with on a micro-scholarship program so that students can earn scholarships throughout their high school career.


# 7 – Financial aid will follow you overseas, and to other colleges.


The Global Field Studies program at Sterling College is a highlight of our academic program. Students should know that the cost of participating in Global Field Studies is included in the cost of attendance and covered by financial aid. There is no additional fee for expenses like airfare or other travel costs.

Additionally, Sterling participates in a semester exchange program with 15 other Vermont colleges, including Bennington College, Champlain College, Marlboro College, Middlebury College, and the New England Culinary Institute. A Sterling student can spend a semester at any of these colleges and still receive their Sterling College financial aid package, paying only the difference in room and board.


# 8 – Work Program vs. Work Study: Know the Difference.


Sterling is one of eight federally recognized Work Colleges. All residential students are required to have a job on campus, and wages from this job help offset the cost of tuition.

Additionally, students MAY be eligible to participate in the Work-Study program, and earn additional funds through part-time campus jobs.


# 9 – Barb is here to help.


Sterling’s Director of Financial Aid, Barb Stuart, is able to personally guide students and families through the financial aid process. You can contact Barb by e-mail at  or give her a call at 802-586-7711 x 103. There is no vast financial aid bureaucracy at Sterling; there is simply Barb.



#10 – International students also qualify for aid.


International students cannot fill out the FAFSA without a social security number, but may still qualify for need-based Sterling Grants and merit scholarships. International students should submit a certificate of finances when they apply for admission. More information about this process is available here.


pavel-4#11 – Sterling is putting more funds towards financial aid than ever before.


In 2016 Sterling committed $3,155,000 to financial aid in the form of grants and scholarships (not loans). This is an increase of 55% since 2012. Generous gifts from alumni and friends of Sterling College help the College to maintain a strong commitment to providing financial aid.


#12 – Net Price Calculator? Meh.


Like every other college and university, Sterling is mandated to have a Net Price Calculator that can help students and families estimate the cost of attendance. Although Net Price Calculators are somewhat useful, they work best for large college and universities that have lots and lots of representative data available and rely on standardized assessment measures (like test scores) to award aid.

With an enrollment of only 130 students and an application process that values individual circumstances, Sterling College is too small for the Net Price Calculator to produce reliable and accurate estimates. If you use the Calculator on the Sterling website be sure to take the results with a grain of salt. The ONLY way to get an accurate estimate of the cost to attend Sterling college is to file the FAFSA.

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Filed Under: Admission and Aid

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