Of the many thoughts racing through a student’s mind as he approaches high school graduation, two of his preoccupations are likely, “What do I want to do for a career?” and “How do I pay for this?” The affordability of a college education is a determining factor in whether a student goes to college at all. ‘Financial Aid’ is a broad term used by colleges to encapsulate all financial options – from scholarships to grants to loans. Knowing how to combine financial aid options with responsibility and hard work will provide students with an answer to the question, “How do I pay for this?”
1. Federal Grants and Loans
Most colleges and universities will ask your family for the FAFSA: Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This is a federal form based on your taxes from the previous year which allows the government to determine a students’ Estimated Family Contribution (EFC). Based on the EFC, the government will designate an eligible amount of aid to that student. Some of this aid will be grants (do not need to be paid back) and some of it may be loans (must be paid back starting six months after graduation).
Students should read the fine print on the awards they accept to determine whether the amount is indeed a grant or if it is a loan. If taking out loans, students should pay close attention to the Loan Entrance Counseling required by the government, and would be wise to seek financial counsel on how much to borrow. It is better to keep loans as a last resort when other options (discussed below) have been exhausted.
2. State/Organizational Grants and Scholarships
Some states, like Florida, give out ‘Promise Scholarships’ to high achieving students. These scholarships may have limitations (GPA, location, or attending a specific university/college) but are worth looking into! Organizational scholarships are awards specific to certain corporations and businesses. Walmart, General Electric, Associated Press have all been known to have scholarships available. Smaller groups such as the Rotary Club or local businesses are also willing to help out students who show ambition and creativity. Look for awards in your hometown or search out corporations you have connections with.
3. Work Study/Campus Jobs
Federal Work Study is a form of aid for which students qualify through the FAFSA. This aid caps at $4000 per year and is earned by working a campus job. The funds can be sent directly to your loans or student account, or they can be given to you like a regular paycheck. A student can also determine the percentage of his paycheck he wishes to send toward his student account: i.e., 60% to account, 40% via paycheck. Regardless of whether a student qualifies for work study, he can very likely acquire a job on campus to help pay for books and incidentals.
4. School Specific Scholarships
University aid is aid through the school itself. Academic scholarships specific to the university with their own GPA and test score qualifications, scholarships based on ethnicity, and association with certain extracurricular groups and societies (such as Phi Theta Kappa) are all opportunities for additional aid. Both state and private colleges will list a wide variety of scholarships for which students can apply. For instance – Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Michigan offers an award of $500 per year to Polish-American students. That’s enough to cover books!
5. Spend Wisely
It is very easy to spend money in high school and college, especially when everyone around you seems to have a bottomless bank account. Starting financial responsibility in high school (or even earlier!) will create habits that will last through a student’s college years. Saving money, budgeting for fun expenditures (eating out, shopping, travel), and avoiding debt are great ways to both fund your college education and guarantee wise decisions when paying for school. Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University is one option for financial education that comes highly recommended for soon-to-be college students!
Working hard and making wise decisions when it comes to college will pay off in the long run. Students who work for and through college tend to value their education more because it was earned! Be sure to check out sites like Fastweb.com for additional scholarships from outside organizations.
Phylicia Duran is a 2008 home school graduate and alum of Liberty University, the world’s largest Christian university. Her educational background includes dual enrollment, CLEP testing, community college, online courses and residential study. She has filled the roles of Admissions Counselor, Social Media Coordinator and currently Coordinator of Group Visits at Liberty University and is passionate about spiritual and vocational discipleship, especially as related to home education.