College students are always looking for creative ways to pay for a quality education and reduce expenses without having to take out exorbitant student loans. Whether you're an undergrad or in graduate school, here are three “first stops” you should make when considering how to pay for college.
1. Grants and scholarships
When it comes to paying for college, grants and scholarships are at the top of the list. In fact, a recent study indicates that 35 percent of students use a combination of grants and scholarships to help pay for their education.¹
For scholarships, begin by checking in with your financial aid office, your department (English, business, science, etc.), and even your dean or a professor to see if there are college scholarships available for your major, heritage, or community. You can also search the Web with sites such as FastWeb that can help you find scholarships that best match what you're looking for.
Like scholarships, grants are a great way to get free money for college. Most grants are based on financial need and come from the federal or state government. There are also some private college grants, generally given to graduate students for specific areas of study. When you complete and submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you're essentially requesting an assessment of your eligibility for federal and most state grants based on the financial information you provide. Some of the most common grants for undergraduate students with demonstrated financial need are Federal Pell Grants. Fellowships (non-need-based grants) are also available to graduate students in their field of study.
2. Federal Work-Study programs and internships
The Federal Work-Study (FWS) program provides part-time jobs for undergraduate and graduate students with a financial need and is generally administered through the school's financial aid office. Work-study jobs can be an excellent way to generate income for college and help pay for additional expenses such as housing, food, and clothes. Work-study jobs are available both on and off campus, and are flexible enough that they can easily accommodate class schedules. For more information on the FWS program, contact the U.S. Department of Education.
3. Federal student aid
The FAFSA is essentially your gateway to federal student aid. Upon completion of the form, your financial information (and your parents' information if you are a dependent) will determine how much federal student aid you may qualify for - including free money such as college grants. This information also determines your eligibility for low-cost federal education loans. So if you don't get enough in scholarships and grants, federal loans should be your next step.
Before you hit the books, take the time to explore all your options for financing your college education. By doing so, you can graduate with a lot less debt and better concentrate on your new career!
1.“How America Pays for College,” Sallie Mae Study, 2014.