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Finding Financial Aid for College Students

Updated on March 11, 2011

While higher education is definitely an investment in your future, the thought of paying for college can often seem very overwhelming. However, there are several strategies you can use to get the money you need for your educational expenses.


Complete the FAFSA

The first step to paying for your educational expenses is completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form will ask for information regarding income and assets for both you and your parents. If your parents are divorced, you'll need information from the custodial parent or the parent who claimed you as a dependant on their tax return.

When your FAFSA is completed, you'll receive a form called a Student Aid Report (SAR) that lists your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Your EFC is the amount that the government has determined that you and your parents should be able to contribute to your educational expenses. The lower your EFC, the more financial aid you will be eligible to receive.

The information on your SAR will automatically be sent to every school you listed on your FAFSA. Then, each school will send you an award letter from the financial aid office that lists which grants and loans you are eligible to receive. The award letter will include funds from federal government programs as well as awards that are specific to that particular school. There can be a considerable difference in financial aid packages between schools, so compare your award letters carefully.

A Pell Grant is one of the most well known types of college grants that you can receive by completing the FAFSA. The program was created in 1972 by the U.S. Department of Education and currently provides free financial aid to about one-third of all undergraduate college students. To receive a Pell Grant, you must be a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen who meets all income requirements. Pell Grants are awarded to students who are working towards their first bachelor's degree.

Find Part Time Employment

Most schools have an office that is devoted to helping students find employment both and off campus. A variety of positions are generally available, ranging from food service cashiers to computer lab monitors and office assistants. Most jobs are for 5 to 20 hours per week, with the flexibility to work around your class schedule and extracurricular activities.

Apply for College Scholarships

In addition to completing the FAFSA, you should also plan on spending some time investigating college scholarship opportunities that may be available to you. Contrary to popular belief, you don't necessarily need an outstanding academic record to be eligible for a scholarship. Many scholarships consider criteria such as financial need, community service, extracurricular activities, and future career goals. There are scholarships based on financial need alone, as well as awards given to people who live in specific geographic areas or students who will be the first in their family to attend college. There are even college scholarships for tall people and students who enjoy knitting!

Scholarship awards can range from $100 to the entire amount of your tuition and fees.

Look for Grants Tied to Specific Fields

There are many programs that encourage people to enter public service occupations. For example, nurses are eligible for debt reduction grants of up to $50,000 from the National Health Service Corps if they complete two years of service in a specific geographic area. Additionally, the National Institutes of Health provides up to $70,000 in debt reduction grants to people pursing careers in medical research.

Consider Military Service

Veterans can receive debt reduction grants in recognition of their military service. The Navy's Loan Repayment Program provides up to $65,000 for full time soldiers with qualified loans. The Air Force College Loan Repayment Program offers a maximum grant of $10,000 to eligible new recruits. The Army's College Loan Repayment Program offers grants of up to $65,000 for full time soldiers.

Avoid Credit Card Debt

As you're trying to find ways to reduce the price of college admission, think twice before charging your living expenses on a credit card. Although credit card offers are widely available to most college students, it's easy to rack up thousands of dollars in debt in a matter of months. If you miss even one payment, you'll risk ending up with a credit history that could make it harder to apply for a car loan or find a suitable place to live after graduation.


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