Looking for ways to find money for college? In today’s environment of skyrocketing tuition and funding cuts for education, “college student” has become synonymous with “flat broke.” To help out, here’s Financial Aid 101, including the first steps for beginners and suggestions for the veteran student with a year or two under the belt.
First stop: Free Application for Federal Student Aid
Finding money for college can be difficult. To qualify for federal grants and loans, you’ll need to first fill out this vitally important form. The FAFSA gathers data about you and your family’s financial situation, how much you can afford to contribute towards the cost of higher education and what other sources of funding you can qualify to receive. Grants, money given that doesn’t have to be paid back, are need-based, including the Pell Grant, Academic Competitiveness Grant and Science and Math Access to Retain Talent grant, to name a few. The FAFSA is the first step, not the only one. Your college will use your FAFSA – and potentially other required documentation– to determine how much aid you will receive. The earliest you can submit the FAFSA is January 1st for the following academic year, and the sooner the better; financial aid money is allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.
Find College Money in Scholarships
Like grants, scholarships are considered “gift aid” but are usually merit-based rather than need-based. They can come from many sources. For high school students, the school’s guidance office should be first on the list, acting as a liaison between students and organizations seeking hardworking, talented and academically successful students in the community who deserve recognition and a leg up financially. Some corporations offer scholarships to eligible employees or children of employees. Check your college’s financial aid website or contact the financial aid office to find opportunities offered through the school and the state government. Even your favorite brands can help. Corporations such as Coca-Cola, Dell, McDonalds, Google and Dr. Pepper sponsor scholarships of many varieties.
You can find all the scholarships in the world, but there’s no money for tuition if you miss the application deadline or submit the application with sloppy work or supplemental materials missing. Stay organized, keep track of deadlines and estimate how much time you’ll need to complete an application. Some are as simple as a single page of your basic information and a transcript, while some will require a record of your extracurricular involvement and community service (a resume of sorts) and perhaps an essay. Some will ask for letters of recommendation as well. For this reason, you’ll want to keep in touch with your recommender, who can alter the same letter of recommendation slightly to reflect each scholarship’s requirements without too much trouble. Have several copies of your transcript on hand and a resume of your extracurricular activities and work experience, if any. Class rank, ACT score and GPA are also quick stats that many scholarships will ask for. Suppose you spend just half an hour a night, four nights per week filling out scholarship applications. If you are award just one scholarship for, say, $500 from a local organization, you just earned $250 per hour. Consider how long it would take to earn that money as a student working part-time and you’ll remember your motivation for filling out those endless forms and writing essay after essay. It’s good practice for college anyway!
Find Money When In College: Internship
Internships are a win-win for college students and the companies who hire them; students gain experience in their field of study before graduation, increasing their odds of landing a job after graduation, and the companies can harness the innovation and motivation that students bring to their first professional workplace. Students may spend a summer, take a semester off from school or both to work as an intern.
The experience can help ease the financial stress that second and third year students often feel, as personal savings are often depleted by this time and students may be struggling to pay for tuition, textbooks, rent and food. It can also ease burnout for students who are focused on a future career and may be frustrated by the theoretical approach common in the classroom. In addition, students get a valuable glimpse of work in their field, and if the job turns out to be the wrong fit, a student can decide to pursue a different focus or a different degree entirely. College degrees are expensive and time-consuming to earn, so be sure you know which one you want before you dedicate tens of thousands of dollars and several years of your life to it.
Make Your Academics Pay for College
Imagine if your work enhanced your academic performance instead of competing with it for your time and attention. You could become a teaching assistant or tutor if you excel in a subject and enjoy working with other students. Grad students often earn tuition remission for teaching courses, while undergraduates are usually paid directly for their work. Tutors may work privately or for the university, working flexible hours or on a set schedule.
Since you attend all your scheduled lectures and take neat, detailed notes (of course you do, right?), you could be getting paid to share. Some schools hire students to take notes, usually as an aid to students with disabilities. Sites like Notehall, StudyBlue and ShareNotes pay contributors as well. You can even start small by offering notes for sale for a few classmates and gradually build your customer base. You’ll gain business experience and networking skills that you couldn’t find in a book or on a test.
Higher education is an expensive pursuit, but it is an investment. Millions of high school graduates and nontraditional students head off to college every year, hoping that the benefits after graduation will far outweigh the costs. Don’t get so caught up in money worries that you lose focus on why you’re there: for an education that will eventually help you achieve a financially secure future. Get the most from the education you’re paying for.