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33 Ways to Get Financial Aid

The cost of college is constantly on the rise. The average cost of attending a four-year public college has increased over 40% since 2000. And according to a report from the Campaign for America’s Future (PDF link), just one year at a public university consumes 25% of the annual median household income in the United States, while one year at a private university consumes 57%. Considering how expensive it is becoming to attend college, it’s no wonder that approximately $90 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 with someone in one of those departments and he/she will help you find the money you need. (You’ll 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

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.
1.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.

2.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. While most Pell Grants are awarded to students with family incomes below $20,000, most students with family incomes below $50,000 are eligible. Awards range from $400 to $4,050.

3.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.

4.Academic Competitiveness Grant.
The Academic Competitiveness Grant is available to all first-year college students who graduated high school after January 1, 2006 and all second-year college students who graduated high school after January 1, 2005. This grant provides up to $750 for the first year of college and up to $1,300 for the second year of college, provided the student is eligible for the Pell Grant, has successfully completed a rigorous high school program, and can maintain a 3.0 GPA.

5.National SMART Grant.
The National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent (SMART) Grant is available for third- and fourth-year college students maintaining a 3.0 GPA who are eligible for the Pell Grant and who are majoring in physical science, life science, computer science, mathematics, technology, engineering, or in a foreign language deemed critical to national security. This grant awards up to $4,000 per year.

6.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.

Scholarships for Nerds

If you’re at this website, you’re probably already comfortable using a computer to get the information you need. Use that to your advantage when applying for these scholarships.
7.Become an Apple Scholar.
For the computer nerds in the crowd, Apple awards scholarships to high school seniors who use technology in academics in an innovative way. The winners get a new MacBook Pro, iPod Nano, and $2,000.

8.Google for Girls
For you young female techies, Google offers the Anita Borg Scholarship that awards $10,000 in scholarship money to women entering their senior year of undergraduate study in computer science, computer engineering, or related technical field majors.

 9.Put on your Red Hat.
Each year, Red Hat Scholarships are awarded to computer science students at universities in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Srilanka, and Bhutan. The scholarship is awarded to individuals who have developed open source software.

10.IEEE Computer Society.
The IEEE Computer Society awards $4,000 in scholarship money to college juniors, seniors, and graduate students who are studying in a computer-related field.

11.Microsoft scholarships.
Microsoft awards more than $500,000 in scholarship money each year to current undergraduate students.


Loans typically are not free money. In most cases they will need to be repaid within 10 years of graduating, unless you qualify for loan forgiveness.
12.Perkins Loan.
A Perkins Loan is a campus-based loan that is provided from your school 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 $4,000 per year for undergraduate students, with a cumulative limit of $20,000. If your school participates in the Expanded Learning Option (ELO), the annual limit is raised by $1,000 and the cumulative limit is raised by $5,000.
13.Stafford Loan.
A Stafford Loan is provided to you either through a private lender (Federal Family Education Loan Program, or FFELP) or directly to you from the U.S. government (Federal Direct Student Loan Program, or FDSLP). Stafford Loans are either subsidized, meaning the government pays the interest while you’re in school, or unsubsidized, in which you are responsible for paying the interest. Beginning July 1, 2007, dependents may borrow up to $3,500 for your freshman year, $4,500 for your sophomore year, and $5,500 for each remaining year. These loans have a fixed rate of 6.8% if first disbursed after July 1, 2006.

14.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 8.5% for all loans first disbursed after July 1, 2006.

 15.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

 16.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.

17.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. If you wish to serve in the military before college, you can earn up to $50,000 for college from the Montgomery GI Bill and the Army or Navy College Fund. Or, you could earn you degree first by serving in the Air Force, Army, or Navy Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC).

 18.Student sponsorships.
Let a private benefactor put you through school. These programs are more popular in Europe, but are beginning to catch on in the United States, thanks in part to iempower’s MyRichUncle. 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.

19.Community service.
Make the planet a better place and earn tuition money. What could be better? AmeriCorps pays out $4,725; Learn and Serve America and the Peace Corps also pays out tuition assistance awards to students who have completed service. Other programs such as VISTA, Teach for America, and the National Health Service Corps offers loan forgiveness programs for college graduates.

20.Tuition payment plan.
Sallie Mae can help you find money for tuition. Visit TuitionPay for more information.

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. See the article on the 529 savings plan for more information.

22.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.

23.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.

24.Your employer.
The company you work for, or even your parents’ employers, may offer some tuition assistance. Don’t be afraid to ask.

25.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.

26.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.

27.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.

Helpful Tips
Knowing where to find financial aid is just half the game. Following these helpful tips will help you maximize your aid package.

28.Save in parents’ names.
The federal government will expect students to contribute 35% of their income to college education, while they expect parents to contribute only 5.6%. So keep that 529 plan and any other investments in the names of the parents.

29.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.

 30.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.

31.Ask for more.
Your university’s financial aid office can be quite accommodating, especially when it comes to personal family needs. Don’t be afraid to schedule an appointment face-to-face with another person and ask for more money.

32.Keep up the good work. Financial aid often relies upon keeping up a certain courseload and GPA. Don’t get behind in your studies or slack off for a semester. It could cost you.

33.Meet all deadlines.
Scholarship applications and the FAFSA have deadlines. Get a calendar and mark them down. You could be the most qualified student on the planet, but if you miss a deadline, it won’t matter.

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!


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Category: Money Matters

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