Finding ways to pay for college, especially if you’re a high school student looking forward to that first year on campus, isn’t easy. But there is a wealth of options out there for you if you do your research. A good strategy is to start looking at where you’re going to come up with college funding early, as deadlines will be important for you to pay attention to as you navigate the financial aid application process. Explore the resources available to you by filling out that financial aid application for FAFSA-based funding, looking to your intended college for college-based funding, investigating private loans and alternatives outside of federal student loans, and considering working through school if you can balance employment and college. Browse through our site to find college funding options that will fit your needs and help you pay for that degree. And don’t forget the most desirable source of funding – college scholarships – that you won’t ever need to pay back. Conduct a free scholarship search on Scholarships.com to see awards that you’re eligible for that could help ease the stress of finding college funding.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, will be one of your first steps in determining where you’ll need to go next as far as supplementing your financial aid package. Most federal aid programs will require it, and most colleges won’t consider recommending financial aid opportunities to you without it. Applications are available starting January 1st of each year, and are available online for faster processing. Once your application is processed, you’ll receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) back that will show you the FAFSA-based funding you’re eligible for. The college funding determined by the FAFSA will include Federal Pell Grants and other need-based grants, Federal Stafford Loans, the Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students, or PLUS Loans, and campus-based aid such as Federal Work-Study opportunities and the Federal Perkins Loan program.
College-based funding will more often than not also be determined by what you fill out on your FAFSA. Work study programs (where the paycheck you make at an on-campus job goes directly toward your tuition and fees), the Federal Perkins Loan program and the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant fall into the campus-based aid funding category as they are distributed directly by the college. Colleges will require more information about you and your parents’ finances than federal programs, meaning the difference in funding from your college and the government could be substantial. Still, your intended college will also be a good source for scholarships and grants available only on that campus, especially if you have a stellar academic record or other abilities and characteristics desirable to the college. Put some thought into the kind of program you’d like to pursue, as many colleges will offer awards based on your field of study. Try out a free college search to see what your intended college offers, and the kinds of scholarships and grants awarded there.
For students who have exhausted other sources of college funding, private loans may be the answer. While they once were scarce, private loans have become increasingly common over the last two decades, and despite problems lenders faced during the latter part of the 2000’s, they are likely here to stay. Traditional bank-based private student loans are the most common option, but they are not the only one available. Credit unions also offer student loans, often at very competitive interest rates. State higher education agencies, as well as some philanthropic organizations may also offer student loans to certain groups of students. Finally, new student lending alternatives are emerging constantly, including web-based services that match students with private individuals interested in helping fund their college educations.
Like private loans, the role employment plays in college funding has shifted over the years. While it used to be common for students to work their way through school and emerge debt-free, now employment is increasingly used as a means to cover college living expenses. Despite this shift, however, employment still plays an important role in college funding. College employment can still help minimize your student loan debt by helping cover your living expenses. A college job can help you gain career experience that will provide a boost to your hiring prospects or possibly guide your career path in a whole new direction. It can also help prep you for the "real world" by providing a crash course in time and money management. There are important things to keep in mind while working, though, such as balancing work and college and finding employment that be beneficial to you in both the short-term and long-term.