The cost of college is constantly on the rise. The average price of a four-year public college has increased more than 15% since 2008. And according to a report from EdTrust, just one year at a public university consumes 27% of the annual middle-class household income in the United States. Considering how expensive it is becoming to attend college, it’s no wonder that $150 billion in financial aid money is awarded to United States college students each year. So you’re about to go to college, or perhaps you’re already in college. How can you get your hands on this money?
Where to Go First
To help get you on the right track, you should first consult with your high school counselor or your university’s financial aid office. Schedule an appointment and they will help you find the money you need. You will, of course, need to do plenty of work on your own, as well.
Also be sure to file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This will enable you to receive any federal loans or grants which you may be eligible for.
Free money for college is money you receive that you won’t have to pay back, as opposed to a loan. Typically, this free money comes in the form of either a scholarship, fellowship, or grant.
- Scholarships and fellowships. Over a million scholarships are awarded each year. There are scholarships based on athletic ability, academic merit, disability, race, nationality, religious affiliation, relation to a cancer victim, location, and more. With a little bit of research and patience, everyone should be able to find a pretty big list of eligible scholarships to apply for. Use FastWeb’s free scholarship search to find scholarships and fellowships that you may be eligible for. Just be sure to watch out for any scholarship scams.
- Federal Pell Grant. A Pell Grant is a federal assistance grant that is awarded to students who have not already earned a bachelor’s degree. Awards can be up to $5,550 for the award year, with up to 12 semesters of aid total.
- Federal Supplement Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG). Like the Pell Grant, the FSEOG is available to students with exceptional financial need who have not already earned a bachelor’s degree. Awards range from $100 to $4,000 per year and are given on a first come, first served basis.
- Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant. For students who plan to become teachers, the TEACH Grant can provide up to $4,000 per year. Students who earn this type of grant will sign an agreement to serve as a teacher in certain high-need fields or in low-income areas for at least four complete academic years.
- Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants. Students who have lost a parent or guardian as a result of military service in Iraq or Afghanistan may be eligible for this federal grant. To be eligible, students must not be eligible for a Federal Pell Grant based on Expected Family Contribution, but must meet the remaining Pell Grant eligibility requirements. Further, the student must have been either under 24 years of age or enrolled in college at the time of their parent or guardian’s death in military service performed in Iraq or Afghanistan after the events of 9/11.
- Institutional grants. Contact your university’s financial aid office to request information on any institutional grants that they may offer. These grants are typically merit-based and will help to cover the costs of education not covered by any federal assistance money.
There’s no end to the amount of scholarships available to students. With scholarships based on financial need, academic achievement, heritage, or special talents, chances are, there’s a scholarship out there for you, and we encourage you to investigate your options. These are some of the most popular scholarships available today.
- NCAA Scholarships. The NCAA does not award scholarships directly, but NCAA schools offer more than $1.5 billion in athletic scholarships every year, covering any type of college cost, and with awards that may be large enough to give you a free ride.
- Google Scholarships. Young techie students have several options for Google Scholarships, including the Google Anita Borg Memorial Scholarship for female students in computer science and technology, and the Generation Google Scholarship for high school seniors intending to study computer science.
- United Negro College Fund. The United Negro College Fund has hundreds of different scholarship programs, offering more than 60,000 low and moderate income students funds for college. Awards can be as large as $85,000.
- IEEE Computer Society.: The IEEE Computer Society awards thousands of dollars in scholarship money to computer science and engineering students each year through various programs. Prizes range from $500 for student projects to $24,000 for first year graduate engineering students.
- Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation. Through the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation over 1,000 students receive scholarships each year, with awards totaling $3.4 million annually. Awards from this program are generous, with some students receiving up to $20,000 for school.
- Microsoft scholarships. Microsoft supports undergraduate students in computer science and related technical disciplines with four different scholarships: General Scholarships, Women’s Scholarships, Minority Scholarships, and Scholarships for Students with Disabilities.
Loans typically are not free money. In most cases they will need to be repaid within 10 years of graduation, unless you qualify for loan forgiveness.
- Federal Perkins Loan. A Perkins Loan is a campus-based loan that is provided from participating schools from a limited pool of federal government money. The interest rate is fixed at 5%. The amount you receive is determined by your school’s financial aid office. This loan is limited to $5,500 per year for undergraduate students, with a cumulative limit of $27,000.
- Federal Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students (PLUS). A PLUS Loan allows a student’s parents to borrow money to cover any costs not already covered by the student’s financial aid package. The interest rate on this type of loan is fixed at 7.9%, and the maximum loan amount is the student’s cost of attendance minus any other financial aid received.
- Direct Subsidized and Direct Unsubsidized Loans. These federal loans are designed for students with financial need, and up to $138,000 can be borrowed for independent graduate students. For subsidized loans, your school will determine the amount you can borrow, and the U.S. Department of Education will pay the interest while you’re in school, right after school, and during a period of deferment. Unsubsidized loans are similar, except that students are responsible for paying the interest during all periods, or interest will accrue.
- Direct Consolidation Loan. Students with multiple federal student loans can use a Direct Consolidation Loan to combine them into one loan. With this option, multiple payments become one bill, and students can take up to 30 years to repay loans. This loan also offers access to alternative repayment plans and a fixed interest rate not to exceed 8.25%.
- Private student loans. Beyond what you receive from the federal government, you can also request additional loan money from a private lender. See FinAid’s list of private student loans for more details.
Other Sources of Money
Special programs, odd jobs, and even crowdsourcing can all add up to impressive college funding sources.
- Federal Work-Study Program. The FWS Program provides jobs to undergraduate and graduate students with financial need, allowing them to earn money to help them pay for education-related expenses.
- Military service. The United States Armed Forces offers several programs, some of which pay 100% tuition assistance for college courses taken during off-duty hours. See the TA Program Overview for more information. Or, you could earn you degree first by serving in the Air Force, Army, or Navy Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC).
- Student sponsorships. Let a private investor put you through school. These programs are more popular in Europe, but are beginning to catch on in the United States. A sponsorship is an investment for benefactors, as they typically are entitled to a certain percentage of your post-college income for a fixed number of years.
- Community service. Make the planet a better place and earn tuition money. What could be better? AmeriCorps pays out equivalent to the maximum value of the Pell Grant for the award year (currently $5,550); Learn and Serve America and the Peace Corps also pay out tuition assistance awards to students who have completed service. Other programs such as Teach for America and the National Health Service Corps offers loan forgiveness programs for college graduates.
- Tuition payment plan.: Sallie Mae can help you find money for tuition. Visit SallieMae for more information.
- Savings. For risk-averse investors who want to avoid the stock market but still make a little return, the 529 College Savings Plan is the way to go. What makes this plan the best way to save for college is that it isn’t taxed and the money in it is not used to calculate a student’s financial aid eligibility.
- Domestic exchange or study abroad programs. Studying in a different state or a different country for a semester or two can sometimes be your ticket to winning another scholarship. Visit FinAid’s page on domestic and study abroad programs for more information.
- Your state. Contact your state’s higher education agency to see if you’re eligible for any programs that they may offer. See the U.S. Department of Education’s Educational Resource Organizations Directory to find your state.
- Your employer. The company you work for, or even your parents’ employers, may offer some tuition assistance. Don’t be afraid to ask.
- Your grandparents. Have your grandparents open and contribute to a 529 plan. While your parents will be scrutinized by the federal government when determining a financial aid package, any money your grandparents provide to you will not be counted.
- Organizations and professional associations. Once you choose a field of study, find a professional association that serves that area of interest and contact them to see if they offer anything in the way of educational assistance or scholarship contests.
- Your expertise. Try selling your expertise. Whether it be tutoring a certain subject, giving music lessons, helping with resume writing, or fixing other people’s computers, put up some fliers and turn your expertise into a little campus business to make a few extra bucks a month.
- Crowdfunding. New programs like GradSave and GiveCollege allow families and friends to pitch in on students’ college savings plans. Broader crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe allow students to collect donations for educational goals, like studying abroad.
Knowing where to find financial aid is just half the game. Following these helpful tips will help you maximize your aid package.
- Save in parents’ names. The federal government will expect students to contribute a higher percentage of their income to college expenses than their parents. So keep that 529 plan and any other investments in your parents’ names to maximize your federal aid opportunities.
- Pay off debt. The federal government is going to consider what you have, not what you owe, when they determine your financial aid award. Liquidate some of your assets to pay off debt, and you may see a boost in aid.
- Maximize your 401(k) and IRA. Funds in accounts set aside for retirement will not be counted by the federal government when they determine your aid package. Move any extra funds into these accounts at least two years prior to filling out the FAFSA.
College is expensive, but the fact is most people simply do not take advantage of all of the financial resources available to them. (Maybe it’s the paperwork.) Take the time, do the research, and fill out the dreaded paperwork, and you’ll get your education much more cheaply — and maybe even for free!