Some states use your FAFSA and your Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) to determine your eligibility for state financial aid. Other states require additional documentation, and deadlines are not always the same. Your state’s FAFSA filing deadline might be earlier than the federal requirement, so consult with your financial aid office or guidance counselor for specifics.
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.
While military sponsored grant programs offer valuable financial assistance, it should be noted that they are only available to enlisted members of the armed services. Serving one’s country in a military capacity is a noble and honorable choice, but it should not be made lightly. Students considering military sponsored financial aid for college should be certain that they fully understand their obligations as enlisted personnel in the U.S. Armed Forces.
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.
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.
Grants for undergraduate students are a large part of the financial aid landscape. These programs may provide general grant funding for students pursuing any number of degrees, or they may be specific to undergraduates enrolled in science, mathematics or engineering courses. Grants for undergraduate students are available from Federal and state governments, colleges and universities, corporations and professional associations.
The search for college grants can lead to some very unique financial aid opportunities. College-bound students looking for education grants will soon find there are programs to address almost any interest. The following grants are examples of the diverse types of financial aid programs that are available to the enterprising student searching for a way to offset the cost of their higher education. These examples also prove that focusing on your interests can lead you to financial aid opportunities which could otherwise go overlooked.
College grants are primarily awards of free money, that do not require any repayment on the part of the recipient. They can be directed toward specific educational expenses, specific types of students, or general purpose. Unlike scholarships, which are typically awarded on the basis of academic achievement or athletic, artistic or extracurricular performance, grants are awarded according to financial need. This is not to say that academic merit will not be considered, only that financial need is given greater weight in the final decision making process.
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.
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.
The traditional model of a college-bound student is beginning to change. While the majority of college students are still newly minted high school graduates, more and more adult learners are headed to colleges and universities across the country. Some may be returning to school to finish degrees that were interrupted by work and family commitments, while others may be attending college for the first time for training courses to help them achieve greater success in the national workforce. Non-traditional students include single parents, displaced workers, returning military veterans and adults seeking new career opportunities.
There are thousands of scholarships, from all kinds of organizations, and they’re not hard to find. You might be able to get a scholarship for being a good student, a great basketball player, or a member of a certain church, or because your parent works for a particular company, or for some other reason. Find out more about finding and applying for scholarships. You’ll also want to be careful and avoid scholarship scams.
In addition to grants dedicated to the economically disadvantaged, there are a wide range of grant programs designed to target the needs of students with both physical and mental disabilities. Grants for students with disabilities help to increase college accessibility to students facing a wide range of personal challenges, including blindness, hearing impairment, autism, and decreased mobility due to physical impairment. Disabled students looking for grants to help them pay for college should begin their search by focusing on advocacy groups and charitable foundations dedicated to the needs of people with their particular disability.
Still, the potential payoff of applying for financial aid makes it worth it. It can make a world of difference if you put in the time and effort to understand the process and how to get the full financial aid you’re entitled. For some students, it’s the only reason they can complete a degree rather than dropping out of college. For others, financial aid helps them leave school with some student loans — but limits the debt to a manageable amount.
There is a good chance that say the equity in your home and/or some other components of your net worth and income will be held against you in the calculation of your SAR (summary of the financial aid you can expect to receive) of your FAFSA. This does not mean, however, that there are not ways to reduce the financial burdens of the college education expenses.