While looking for ways to finance your education today can be tricky, the alternative is currently a massive problem in America today. Student loan debt in 2014 reached a whopping $1.3 trillion, with the average student’s debt size jumping to $33,000. That’s a lot of money (and often a lot of interest) to pay back later, so one way to avoid falling into the trap of debt before you’ve left college is to take advantage of grants and scholarships available at every level. What this means is that you earn free money, bringing down the cost of college before looking into debt.
Federal Grant Money
The first avenue to consider is the most common, and that comes from filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA): federal grants. Federal grants are not the same as subsidized student loans, since they don’t have to be paid back, and there are a few variants available depending on your own background, circumstances, and in some cases, career choice. For this reason, the FAFSA will return information on grants and loans available from the federal government. These are usually not enough to cover the full cost of schooling, and many students choose to augment their grants with loans. Before you do that, however, there are other options.
Scholarships and Grants: Using the Power of Search
Before applying for a student loan, it’s important to remember that literally millions of dollars go unused every year in the form of unused grant and scholarship money from countless organizations throughout the country. Sometimes these can be based on your academic records in the form of scholarship requirements, but sometimes grants and scholarships are available through your workplace (or a family member’s), civic associations, and companies looking to promote young minds in specific fields of study. A number of colleges even offer their own scholarships, so it’s always a smart idea to check out the college’s Financial Services Department and see if they know other ways to help cover for your college expenses.
A number of colleges have work-study programs which allow for students to cover other expenses while working a number of hours a week in the college. Depending on their policies, these jobs can help cover college expenses on an ongoing basis and help cover costs incurred through regular college living. Another advantage of these programs is that they are usually more flexible on schedule than a regular off-campus job.
Why It’s a Good Idea to Look for Financial Opportunities First
While college debt is ballooning around the country, there are students who pay for most or all of their study using the power of scholarships, grants and other opportunities that come their way. By making sure to look for every possible opportunity available to put money to your education beforehand, your college experience will be less stressful, and hopefully free of debt upon graduation. Even more importantly, learning how to intelligently finance your education with as little debt as possible will teach lessons that will last a lifetime.