So you’ve explored your options, and decided where you’re going to college; congrats! But, unfortunately, few things in life are free, and that may be doubly true for college. It is scary to have all the burden of college on yourself without any help or guidance. So, below is a review of three ways to pay for your college education, many of which don’t require you to have parent consent or a cosigner and range from merit based to needs based.
Scholarships are generally merit based; this is a beneficial place to start, because they don’t need to be paid back. People tend to think primarily of academic scholarships. And yes, academic scholarships can be very beneficial to your financial welfare and may give you a great sense of accomplishment for all of your hard work. Don’t qualify? Don’t worry. There are plenty of other merit-based scholarships for various extracurricular activities you may have participated in, such as sports. Some of these scholarships come from the high school level and don’t require you to play in college. Even better? In high school, it’s not all about performance; an essay on the life lessons learned through an activity can help you compete. There may also be scholarships specific for your intended major or area of study, nonacademic scholarships provided by the university, scholarships through your high school, and even scholarships through your community. Never limit yourself to the number of scholarships you apply for; if you meet the qualifications, go for it! Just be diligent in your search; if you’re having problems finding scholarships, ask counselors and advisors for help.
Student Financial Aid
Student Financial Aid is needs based. In order to receive financial aid, such as Pell grants, government loans, work-study, student-aid programs, state aid, or other institutional aid, you will need to fill out the FAFSA. This application will ask you numerous questions pertaining to your household, income, and expected costs. Based on the information you provide, the government will decide how much of what kind of aid you are eligible for. This information has to be updated and renewed annually. Be cautious though! Sometimes, the FAFSA will allow you to borrow more loan money than you really need (the key word being BORROW). All of this money will need to be paid back (plus interest), so only accept what is necessary.
Non-federal loans (such as private loans through banks or companies) are also considered needs based. Just like federal loans, don’t forget you have to pay back the money plus the interest it gains over the years. Be sure to make educated decisions about where to borrow your money from. Oftentimes, federal aid will have lower interest rates than private-bank loans, but this all depends on factors such as your credit history, or that of your parents. Know your options before you sign on and borrow. Again, only take what you need; this will eliminate unnecessary debt.
Figuring out how to fund your college career is an integral part of the adult college experience. Scholarships, student financial aid, and loans are three key ways to help you pay for your education. Figure out how much money you will need and plan accordingly. Once you plan for your financial future, you can begin to plan for your academic future. So, how will you pay your way?