The thought of navigating the financial aid world is enough to make even the most ambitious among us give up on going to college. With so much information out there about different types of public, private and government loans, not to mention grants and scholarships, how can students get started?
At American InterContinental University’s recent Serious Talk Webinar on returning to college, Phil Olson, Vice President of Financial Aid for the university, remarked that many of the people he speaks to often wrongly assume that they won’t qualify for assistance. In the video below, he shares tips on how to start the financial aid process:
- File a FAFSA.
Available at FAFSA.ed.gov, the FAFSA (Free Application for Student Aid) becomes available every year in early January and has filing deadlines depending on your program. If you aren’t ready to file, you can still get an estimate of what financial aid you might be eligible for with the Net Price Calculator from the college you’re interested in attending.
While the FAFSA is a great way to start the financial aid process, there are other things you can do to find money for college:
- Ask Your Employer.
John Zappa is CEO of EdLink, America’s largest outsourced provider of employee tuition assistance programs. Zappa says that companies spend over $20 billion annually sponsoring employees’ education, and three-quarters of companies offer tuition assistance benefits. Find out if your company has a tuition reimbursement program. If there isn’t an official program, simply ask if your employer will support your education.
- Serve Your Country.
Public service can pay off in the form of tuition assistance, scholarships and grants. The U.S. Military sponsors its members’ education with the G.I. Bill. This program covers tuition and even sponsors a portion of housing costs for veterans and active-duty members. Some colleges also offer special military grants and other forms of assistance.
Students who volunteer may qualify for scholarships from the organizations they serve, according to FinAid.org, a non-profit financial aid website. Public service scholarships are granted by organizations such as hospitals, nursing homes, religious groups, fraternal orders and charities as a way of recognizing outstanding community service. On the national level, The Youth Service Scholarship Act of 2001 encourages volunteerism among low-income students by awarding $5,000 scholarships to 1,000 students annually.
- Become a Public Servant.
Public service workers may also be eligible for a tuition benefit in the form of loan forgiveness. The College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007 forgives those who work in public service jobs for 10 years or longer the remainder of their federal loans, as long as 120 payments have been made.
Putting the time and effort into finding scholarships, grants and fellowships can be worth your while. But beware of websites or subscription services that charge a fee for searching a scholarship database; applying for most grants and scholarships should be free, commonly requiring only an application and an essay for consideration.
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