These days, a college education is a necessary prerequisite for almost any field of work. But many students fear that a four-year degree (or any degree at all) may be out of reach for them.
A 2008 study by MaraCosta College found that 69% of graduating seniors believe cost to be the biggest barrier to attending college.
Many students also feel anxious about taking on the burden of college loan debt. And it’s very common to settle for a low-cost school under the assumption that a higher price tag renders a school unaffordable.
But you don’t necessarily have to allow low income to sabotage your hopes and dreams. There are some options out there to help students achieve their goals without getting ensnared by excessive debt.
Yes, I know, nobody enjoys filling out paperwork. But it’s to your advantage to really do a thorough job of filling out any applications for aid, beginning with the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Collect all the documents that you need ahead of time (such as bank statements and tax returns) and sit down to complete the form. This can be done online.
The FAFSA is used to calculate your eligibility for grants. You can qualify for college grants which will help you pay for books and housing. There are also Federal grants (such as the Pell grant) to help offset the cost of tuition. Grants are a sensible option because, unlike loans, they do not need to be paid back.
To optimize your chances of finding needed assistance, don’t stop with the FAFSA. There are many grants available for different groups, such as minorities, first-generation college students, and students with military families. Do your research carefully and apply to as many of these as possible.
Here are just a few opportunities that are out there:
- Academic Competitiveness Grant. Students who have completed a rigorous program of study at the secondary school, and are also eligible for a need-based Pell grant, may qualify for this award. It is contingent upon maintaining a high GPA.
- Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grant. To qualify for this grant, you must sign an “Agreement to Serve.” You must be willing to teach in a high need school for at least four years after graduation.
- Ameriglide Achiever Scholarship. This grant is available to students who use a manual or electric wheelchair, have a minimum 3.0 GPA, and submit a 500-word essay.
These are just a few examples of grant opportunities. There are many others based on the field that you are studying, your family background, and geographical area. So be persistent in seeking out and applying for as many as you can.
A word of caution: be aware that there are many scams out there targeting students that are seeking financial aid. Always research every grant carefully before submitting any personal information.
Price Isn’t Everything
Don’t automatically rule out a school because it’s pricey. Often the larger-ticket schools have more grants and better financial aid packages. For example, Harvard and Stanford are covering tuition for students with family income below $125,000 and other big name schools are also doing more to attract such students. Though affordability will be a factor in your decision, take other important things into account, such as how well their programs match up to your goals. Also consider whether or not your financial aid package will cover all four years. Look at the school’s graduation rate also, as this is a huge indicator of the success rate of students from diverse backgrounds.
But above all, don’t let the cost of an education stand in the way of your dreams.
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