Since 2012 the price of attending a four-year college increased approximately 11% per year, making it increasingly difficult for the average family to afford; the cost of college tuition can exceed 76% of the annual pay for lower to middle-income families. Government grants and other sources of free aid have not kept pace with the rising cost of school, leaving students to rely more heavily on loans.
To reverse this trend, take the time to explore effective ways to increase the amount of free financial assistance received from the college.
Use High School Guidance Counselors as a Resource
High school counselors receive information from local businesses and charities about scholarships earmarked to help students in the community. They also assist with class schedules, resume building, and volunteer work, which can create a stronger application for both college admissions and scholarship opportunities. Increasing a child’s experience can lead to qualifying for additional scholarships or grants.
Connect with the College Financial Aid Office
Financial aid offices have many resources at their fingertips. Reach out to the financial aid office early in the admissions application process. They can help parents and students maneuver the process, and keep everyone abreast of important deadlines. Completing the FAFSA form in January of the child’s senior year will create eligibility for school-specific grants and scholarships, along with federal loans, if needed.
Community service, clubs, and even part-time work can meet scholarship requirements. Companies like Walmart and McDonalds offer employee scholarships, while other major firms like Microsoft and Bank of America provide scholarships for children of employees. Local clubs and charities often support high achievement and local students.
Research Scholarships Independently
Free money directly reduces the need for loans. Private scholarships do not require attendance at a specific school, providing students with the ability to win money before college. Scholars should start the search as soon as high school begins. In some cases, they can win awards at even younger ages.
Scholarships can offer assistance based on nearly any criteria, including academic merit, race, nationality, disability, athletic ability, relation to someone with cancer, location, religious affiliation, and so forth. Companies award millions of dollars annually, but the applicant must apply to win. Fortunately, aggregator websites make it easy to register and identify potential scholarships, saving time and increasing the odds of winning.
The following websites, help students find and win free money for their education.
A few popular scholarships available include:
- IEEE Computer Society offers money ranging from $500 for a student project to $24,000 for first-year graduate engineering students.
- Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation pays out over 3.4 million dollars in funds for higher education.
- The United Negro College Fund provides hundreds of scholarships and has assisted over 60,000 African American students with low and moderate income with awards as large as $85,000.
- Google has multiple programs, including Google Anita Borg Memorial Scholarship for female students pursuing a degree in computer science and technology. The Generation Google Scholarship is for high school students anticipating a degree in computer science.
- Microsoft supports computer science majors through four different programs targeting minorities, students with disabilities, women and general scholarships.
Colleges and Universities offer grants sponsored by the government, corporations, foundations, or trusts. Grants do not require repayment and can be need or merit-based. Here are five examples of grants offered for higher education:
Federal Pell Grant. Qualified schools offer Pell Grants, which can cover up to $5,500 annually for up to 12 semesters. Income, cost of attendance, and student status can impact the amount you receive. Student’s enrolled in an undergraduate, vocational, and some teacher certification programs qualify. They are not available to graduate students, and the student must remain eligible for federal aid to receive the grant.
Institutional Grants are typically merit-based and come from the specific college. Alumni and other internal organizations raise money for these programs.
Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH Grant) support soon-to-be teachers offering up to $4,000 annually. Student’s must sign an agreement stating that in exchange for financial assistance, the student will teach in a high-need field or a low-income area for a minimum of four academic years.
Federal Supplement Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) gives money to undergraduate students with severe financial need. Awards vary from $100 to $4,000 annually, given on a first come first serve basis.
Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants help those who have loss of a parent or guardian due to military service in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Additional Sources of Free Money
Beyond the traditional methods of winning free money, there are other resources available to pay for school that do not include loans. A few alternatives could include the following:
Federal Work-Study Program provides employment as part of the financial aid package. In many cases, the student can use earnings for living expenses rather than tuition or room and board.
Part-time employment during school can cover some or all living expenses, reducing the need for loans.
Tuition payment plans pre-pay tuition for younger children at discounted rates.
Payment plans available at many schools allow parents to pay remaining balance after free aid over the course of the year, rather than at the start of each semester.
In many cases, students must include loans as part of the package to pay for school. Federal loans have generous terms, low interest, and do not require payments while attending. Subsidized loans provide interest payments while the child remains a student saving money on interest during the first years of the loan. Minimizing the need to borrow can save students thousands of dollars in repayment costs after completing their education.