College and university enrollment is increasing yearly in the United States. With the demand for a more educated workforce growing, students are looking for affordable ways to attain a higher education. Today's technology makes resources to pay for college much more accessible. Almost every step in the process can be done quickly and simply online with a few clicks. There are a number of monetary resources available for students, including federally funded loan programs, grants, scholarships and private loans.
Federal student aid
The first step in finding money for college is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. A part of the office of the U.S. Department of Education, Federal Student Aid provides loans, grants, and work-study funds for students. The FAFSA will determine how much federal financial aid a student is eligible for based upon financial need. Students link the application to the school(s) they hope to attend. Once a determination on need is made, schools automatically receive the approved amount of aid available and will include it in the student's financial aid award package. For students attending public college, the aid provided from FAFSA may be sufficient to cover the cost of tuition. The FAFSA is available online at studentaid.ed.gov.
Another resource available for financing a college education is a grant. Grants, unlike loans, are freely given, with no obligation to be repaid. Some grants students will be eligible for through FAFSA. However, there are numerous other grants available as well. Grants are sometimes based on merit, need, or a combination of both. Certain clubs and organizations offer grants to students. To learn more about grants available, students should speak with their school counselors or visit collegeboard.org for a listing of those available.
Scholarships, very similar to grants, are aid given that does not have to be repaid. Scholarships are usually based on merit. Students who are awarded scholarships have usually proven their abilities in a particular area, maintained a specific GPA, and/ or have athletic talent. There is an overwhelming amount of scholarships available. A good place to start is right in your community. Many community agencies, foundations, and companies offer scholarships. The institution you wish to attend will also have information on school-specific scholarships available. If you wish to continue your search, you can do so on a scholarship database such as College Board's Scholarship Search (bigfuture.collegeboard.org).
If you've exhausted resources from FAFSA, grants and scholarships you may consider private loans; loans given from banks, private organizations and state government agencies. Getting private loans are less desirable than other forms of aid for several reasons. They often require a good credit score to obtain, meaning an adult will have to co-sign. In addition, the interest rates are often higher than federally subsidized loans and may be increased over time. In the event a private loan is necessary, only borrow what you need. There is a temptation to borrow additional funds to cover other expenses, but it will cost you down the road.
Another viable option to help off-set the cost of an education is working a part-time job. Having an income can help pay for living expenses, books, and school supplies. Having a part time job could also lead to references for jobs after college.
Receiving a high quality education is costly, but worth it. Having a college education is a valuable asset when searching for quality employment. In addition, graduating from college is an enormous achievement that can boost your morale and give you the confidence to chase after dreams.