Getting a college degree these days can be very expensive. Even affordable schools may cost tens of thousands of dollars per year, and professional schools can be well over fifty-thousand dollars for a single year. The good news is that there are many sources of financial assistance for education, and depending on your circumstances you may be able to take advantage of one or more.
The first avenue you’ll want to explore to get financial assistance for education is federal money. The federal government provides grants and loans to students in need, to help them pay for their learning. Federal programs offer two general types of financial assistance for education: need-based grants, and low-interest loans. If you qualify for grants from the federal government, they will simply give you money to pay for a portion of your tuition costs. There’s nothing to pay back, and no real strings attached — although of course you do have to stay enrolled in the school and get decent grades. You can also get loans from the federal government for education costs. These loans are extremely low interest — and often no interest until you are out of school — allowing you to pay them back over a long period of time once you’ve graduated.
To find out if you qualify for federal aid, and to begin the process of getting financial assistance for education through the government, you’ll need to fill out the Free Application For Student Aid, commonly known as the FAFSA. You can find the FAFSA online, and even fill it out and submit it online. For most students, the bulk of their financial assistance for education comes through the FAFSA and the doors to federal money that it opens.
Private scholarships are another way to receive financial assistance for education, and can help make up the difference between your total tuition and living expenses, and the money the federal government gives you. Scholarships come in all sorts of varieties, and we’ll talk here about three distinct types: scholastic based, criteria based, and merit based.
Scholastic scholarships are a way of receiving financial assistance for education based on your academic performance. Scholastic scholarships look at your overall GPA, your class rank, Honor’s classes, extra-curricular activities, and recommendations from teachers. These are often highly-competitive scholarships, but may be for a great deal of money. Booster clubs, Honor societies, and even the college itself may offer academic scholarships.
Criteria-based scholarships require you to meet some sort of criteria, in addition to supplying your academic information, and usually writing an essay of some sort. Criteria may be anything, but are most often based on membership in a minority racial group, a religious group, being a member of a military family, or being the first member of a family to attend an institute of higher learning. Competition for criteria-based scholarships is often less than more general scholarships, and so your odds of receiving financial assistance for education are improved. Look around to see if you qualify for any specific scholarships based on your unique identity.
Merit scholarships are usually more like traditional competitions or contests than the others. Although they may require you to have a certain GPA, or to meet other criteria, it usually is your submission that makes or breaks whether you receive financial assistance for education from them. Merit scholarships are often offered by corporations or non-profits, who request the student write an essay about a specific topic somehow pertinent to their business or service. They may also be more general writing scholarships, or have to do with a visual or performance art piece.
These types of scholarships, and federal financial aid, will likely make up the bulk of your financial assistance for education. Other avenues you may wish to explore include work-study at the college you’ll be attending, scholarships based on performance in a collegiate sport, and private-party loans. The most important thing to remember is to keep looking, and to keep digging — there is a great deal of money out there earmarked to give students financial assistance for education, and if you keep at it, you should be able to pay for your entire education.