Planning for college expenses is one of the biggest financial projects that a family can undertake. Four years of college can cost tens of thousands of dollars -- the average annual cost (tuition plus room and board) at private U.S. colleges is now $35,636 -- and it's increasingly easy to break into the six-figure range, especially for advanced degrees [source: Lewin]. Parents, you've probably wondered just how you'll afford to send your child to the college or university that he or she has dreamed about and earned the right to attend.
We all hear horror stories about how much college costs now -- and will cost in 10 or 20 years (tuition increases between four and seven percent annually).That said, it's not too late to find a way to make paying for college manageable -- not easy, but manageable. Just remember one thing: Paying for college is a family affair. Parents and students must work together to make college affordable. Obviously, the earlier you start, the easier it will be. However, it's never too late to make a difference.
The majority of students applying and receiving college grants are low income students, also called need-based grants. Need based college grants are to give everyone a fair opportunity to get an education. Some common need-based grants are the Pell Grant, a Scholarship for Disadvantaged Students, and several others. The first place you should apply is called the FAFSA.
Some college grant programs are open to all students regardless of background or field of study. These are considered General Grants, and typically are decided according to financial need and academic performance. A great number of college grants, however, are designed to target specific portions of the population or students pursuing particular degrees or career paths. These can be broken down into the following categories.
Students pursuing high-need fields of study, like nursing, teaching and STEM subjects may get assistance from state governments. Nursing and teaching grants are issued by states, in return for service obligations that require participants to work in under-served areas. By committing to work as a teacher or nurse within your state, for a period of two to four years, you might receive tuition abatement that amounts to a free ride through college. If you don’t follow through on your end of the service agreement, your grant becomes a loan that you must repay-with interest.
The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant – The FSEOG is designed to give financial aid to undergraduate students with extreme financial need. The FSEOG program is funded by the Federal government, and administered through the financial aid offices of participating colleges and universities. Students must apply through their college of choice, and grants are awarded on a first come, first served basis.
Many grants dedicated to specific career paths are, in fact, award-for-service programs. These programs perform two functions; they give much needed financial aid to talented students pursuing careers in high need fields, and they help to secure and retain talented professionals in communities that are experiencing critical manpower shortages. Students entering into a grant-for-service program should understand that they are agreeing to a binding contract, and will be obligated to fulfill all the of the particulars of that contract. Students who fail to meet their award-for-service obligations will find that their grants will revert to standard student loans, and they will be expected to repay all monies received plus interest.
Grants for college students fall across two broad categories, depending on what eligibility requirements are attached to the funds. Need-based grants are issued to students exhibiting the greatest levels of financial hardship in paying for college. On the other hand, merit-based grants are tied to performance-like good grades and other personal achievements.
The Federal Pell Grant program is the largest provider of student grants. Pell Grants provide tuition assistance to undergraduates demonstrating financial need. A blended federal financial aid package often includes Pell Grants-alongside Federal Direct Loans. Eligibility is determined annually based on FAFSA disclosures, and reflects four areas of consideration.
High school guidance counselors and college aid officers are there to help students plan for a successful future and find financial aid. They provide individualized advice based on a student’s academic and financial situation. A counselor will also be aware of scholarships, financial aid, or tuition-assistance programs specific to a student’s school, community, or state.
If you’re a noncitizen without a Social Security card or had one issued through the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, you should fill out the California Dream Act Application found at caldreamact.org. You don’t need to fill out a FAFSA form to be eligible for California student financial aid. Contact the California Student Aid Commission (csac.ca.gov) or your financial aid administrator for more information. Additional forms might be required. Applicants are encouraged to keep a record of their submission by printing out their online FAFSA confirmation page or obtaining proof of mailing the FAFSA form.