Student Aid shares how to accept financial aid (free, earned, borrowed) when preparing paying for college. Read the three tips and the descriptions below.
First, accept free money (merit aid, scholarships, grants).
The best way to pay for college is with merit aid! Merit aid is distributed by each college based on your academic performance in high school (GPA) and on your standardized tests (SAT, ACT). Improve your scores to qualify for more merit aid using test prep and tutoring! What are you waiting for?
The Domestic Undergraduate Need-Based Aid and Merit Aid chart by Jennie Kent and Jeff Levy from EducateAbroad (2017) shows you how each college distributes merit aid. Public schools offer around $5,000 in merit aid while private schools offer around $15,000. Actual aid is determined by the individual college based on the students GPA, test scores, and other factors (in some cases).
Don't fall in the "guaranteed trap!" Authentic scholarship search websites will not guarantee a scholarship since the winners could be selected at random, be 1 of 14,542 entries, or by popular vote of students with curly hair. They will not charge you an entry fee for a scholarship search. They do not have exclusive rights or secret money left by your ancestors in a cave.
So finding and applying for scholarships is your responsibility. Through your junior year, bookmark and save the scholarships you want to apply to as a senior. Then you can work toward meeting the recommendations. Christopher Penn, Chief Media Officer of Edvisors, recommends that you "set your expectations by the rule of 10 - for every scholarship you are awarded, you have to apply for 10. For every scholarship you qualify and apply for, you'll need to research 10 opportunities." So starting in August of your senior year, apply for 3-5 scholarships a week. Consider this a part-time job. When you are awarded a $500 that you spent a few hours applying for, you just saved 50 hours of real work! So don't overlook or dismiss the small dollar offers.
With so many scholarship search engines available, start with CareerOneStop, Scholar Snapp, Scholly, Student Scholarship Search, Chegg, Cappex, Fastweb, and FinAid. You'll need to create a profile but the search is free (Scholly has a small fee). Some will offer scholarships that may not be listed on another site. Some will sell your personal information, so read the fine print.
You can also search for scholarship opportunities on a general search engine (Yahoo, Bing, Google) and social media (Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest).
You can search using many scholarship categories: academic, athletic, institutional, private, local, and regional. For more ideas, read my blog about finding obscure scholarships.
While some colleges have grants, there are typically two types of federal grants: the Pell Grant and the TEACH Grant. Similar to scholarships, grants are one-time offers that must be renewed.
Some students qualify for Pell Grants. Federal Pell Grants usually are awarded only to undergraduate students who display exceptional financial need and have not earned a bachelor's, graduate, or professional degree.
A Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant is different from other federal student grants because it requires you to take certain kinds of classes in order to get the grant, and then do a certain kind of job to keep the grant from turning into a loan.
Next, accept earned money (work study).
Some students are given the opportunity to participate in work study through the college. This allows you to work on campus for a designated amount of money. If you marked work study on your FAFSA, it should be a part of your award package. When you register for college, visit your school’s financial aid office and sign up. Don’t procrastinate. The best jobs fill up quickly. Some jobs give you the opportunity to work in your field of study; many are in service areas such as at the library, in the cafeteria, or admission office.
BONUS EARNED MONEY TIP: Learn how to become a Resident Assistant (RA). Colleges will compensate you (including free room costs!) to live and work on campus.
Last, accept borrowed money (loans).
Loans are a part of financial aid. Loans help you fill in the gap of your need-based aid and merit-based aid. There are many loan sources: institutional, federal student, federal parent, state, and private educational loans. Federal Loans include: Federal Perkins Loan (<$5,500), Direct Subsidized Stafford Loan ($3,500-5,500 - no charged interest while in school), Direct Unsubsidized Stafford Loan ($6,000-20,500 - interest charged while in school, begin payments immediately), Direct PLUS Loan for parents (up to yearly cost of attendance - begin payments immediately). You should also use this loan calculator to estimate your potential repayment schedule.
Consider federal loans first before selecting state loans, institutional (college) loans or private loans. And read the fine print!
Two companies that provide information about private financial aid loans are Edvisors and College Raptor.
One more tip, with all of the free, earned, and borrowed money, learn how to set up (and use) a budget.
You may not have considered budgeting for college yet. Some families work with a financial adviser, local banker, or software to create a budget. Here are a few tools that will help you think through the college budgeting process.
Preparing yourself to pay for college is an essential step towards your higher calling.
Combining my youth ministry and educational consulting experience, I guide students to connect higher education with God's calling.