The only thing harder than getting into college is paying for it. Here are five tips on earning your degree for less.
Think Ahead—The earlier the research process begins, the bigger the payoff. As early as sophomore year, your student should begin collecting and organizing applications, recommendations, test scores, essays, and transcripts. Students should begin applying by junior year in order to take advantage of the countless scholarships geared toward younger students. Creating a family calendar of application deadlines will help you both set realistic goals and stay on top of the mountain of paperwork.
Think Federally—The most crucial step in the college scholarship search process is filling out the FAFSA for financial aid. The FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Available online at www.fafsa.ed.gov or by calling (800) 4-FED-AID, FAFSA is the only way to apply for college grants, scholarship money, and/or loans issued through the U.S. government. Get your forms in order now and mark it on the calendar to get your hands on the nation’s biggest financial aid resource.
Think Locally—College tuition could be no farther than your own community. Organizations such as the Rotary Club, the Jaycees, the American Legion, and Boosters chapters have college scholarship funds set aside specifically for area high school seniors. Memorial college scholarships honoring local residents are also a lucrative, but typically overlooked, resource. Since competition for local funds is significantly less than that for national awards, researching what’s offered just around the corner could pay off in a big way. Start by stopping by your students’ high school career office to see what’s available, then follow-up by asking prospective colleges about their scholarship, financial aid and grant packages.
Think Categorically—Your college-bound student may be eligible for certain college scholarships by virtue of ethnic, religious, and professional affiliations. Books such as Peterson’s Scholarship Almanac, The Scholarship Handbook, and Scholarships, Grants, and Prizes can help your college-bound student find scholarship money from around the world that meets your financial requirements. To find out what kinds of funds your student is qualified for without leaving your home, create a profile through an online college scholarships search engine and let the opportunities find you. Sites like Fastweb.com, Scholarships.com, Finaid.org, and CollegeView.com allow you to sift through thousands of career, college, and heritage-based scholarships to find what matches your interests, activities, and needs.
Think Corporately—Businesses such as Coca-Cola and Target offer financial aid and grants to thousands of students each year. Big-name companies aren’t the only place to look: start by asking whether or not your or your spouse’s company offers scholarships to children of employees.