College costs have exploded over the past decade, increasing by a massive 33 percent from the 2004-2005 school year to 2014-15, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. For today’s average student, 70 percent of colleges are more expensive than they can afford. But while college is more expensive than ever, family incomes and college savings rates have not kept pace.
Colleges and universities can also be prime sources for grants. Often, colleges will be given private endowments from individuals and businesses for the purpose of providing financial aid to deserving students. Again, privately endowed grants and scholarships tend to have highly specific eligibility requirements, and may target certain portions of the population such as women or minorities. They may also be dedicated to students pursuing degrees in specific fields or disciplines.
It can also be helpful to understand how the Federal Student Aid Office uses the information on the FAFSA to decide how much aid each student gets. The financial details are used to calculate your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). This is the Federal Student Aid office’s estimate of what your family should reasonably be able to pay toward college costs, based on these factors:
As students begin to investigate possible grants for college, they will likely find a variety of award-for-service grants. These types of grants are typically allied to a distinct course of study, and are applied to students with definite career goals. Typically they address critical shortages in certain professional fields including healthcare, legal aid, teaching and social work. A grant-for-service requires recipients to agree to a predetermined term of service, working within their chosen field, at a critical need facility or in an under-served community. If the student fails to meet their obligations, the grant will revert to a standard student loan, and the student will be expected to repay all monies received plus interest.
Before considering any form of education loan, students need to investigate possible grants for which they may be qualified. Grant money for college never has to be repaid, and there are a wide array of grant programs designed to benefit every kind of student, and every course of study. Thousands of organizations, both public and private, have grant money to award to students who are struggling to cover the costs of their college tuition.
Low-income and disadvantaged students qualify for general need-based aid in most states that offer it, but specific funding is also set aside for students whose access to education is severely limited by social and financial conditions. Exceptional hardship is calculated differently in each state, but the students whose circumstances present the greatest educational obstacles are the first to be considered for state grants.
Private student loans: Financing from private lenders might also be listed in your financial award letter, or you can find it on your own. Using federal student loans first is often the best move, Randolph said. However, “if you still need money to bridge the gap between financial aid and the cost of attendance, you’ll have to look at private student loans.”
Students ineligible for federal aid but who meet state financial aid program and residency requirements should complete the Washington Application for State Financial Aid at readysetgrad.org/wasfa instead of the FAFSA form. Contact the Washington Student Achievement Council (readysetgrad.org/wasfa) or your financial aid administrator for more information.