Where to Begin?
Funding for school can come from a variety of sources, but a great starting point is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly known as FAFSA. By filling out the FAFSA, you are giving Federal Student Aid (an office of the Department of Education) the ability to determine if you qualify for federal grants, loans or work-study opportunities.
After completing your FAFSA, you can explore other ways to pay for school. Your state government, the school of your choice and private organizations are all potential sources of money.
Grants can come from the federal government, your state government or the school you plan to attend. These monies are often reserved for students who can demonstrate financial need, but might also be awarded based on academic merit or special circumstances (such as being a military veteran). Federal grant awards are based on information you report on your FAFSA. Speak with an advisor at your school's financial aid office to find out more about grants that the school might offer.
Work-study is need-based aid provided by Federal Student Aid. This money is awarded based on your FAFSA results. Work-study programs allow you to get a paying job at the university and use that money to cover school costs.
Loans can be a great way to finance your education as long as you borrow only what you need. Your first stop to acquiring a loan is (you guessed it) Federal Student Aid. Loans from Federal Student Aid are based on your FAFSA information. You can also look into getting a loan from a private company, such as a bank. Taking out a private loan has risks that don't exist in a federal loan, though, so maximize federal opportunities first. If you take out a private loan, confirm you understand the lending terms prior to signing off on anything.
Cast a wide net when searching for scholarships. Common awards may focus on academics or demographics, but there are also unusual scholarships out there for niche interests or specific professional fields. Your completed FAFSA will be helpful when applying for scholarships - many organizations list that as an application requirement.
Get a Job
The summer before you start school is an optimal time to work as much as you can. Find a full-time job and take advantage of this time in your life when you have no academic obligations. Be frugal and save as much money as possible. Keep in mind you might need to get a part-time job while you go to school. Even a few hours a week can help with costs, like groceries or books.
Just because you don't have all the money for tuition up front doesn't mean you can't attend school. Many schools have payment programs that allow you to pay over the course of the school year, rather than in one lump sum. Some schools offer installment plans, while others might offer monthly payment plans. Discuss your individual needs with a financial aid advisor at your school and find out if this option is available.
Time to think outside the box! You've asked your parents, the government and your school for money, what about asking the general public to help out, too? According to FOXBusiness, more and more students are using crowd funding as a way to get money for their education. Since there are many crowd funding sites available, make sure you understand the policies and terms of the website before signing up. Organization is key - have a plan to advertise your campaign, and know how to manage the money as it comes in.
Start at a Community College
If you still find yourself in a financial bind, there's another option - delay attendance to a 4-year school and head to a community college. The tuition at a community college is a great bargain compared to the tuition at most 4-year colleges. By paying lower tuition, you can stretch your financial aid further while completing general education classes. After two years, you'll have college credit and hopefully a bigger savings account, and you can pursue admission to your dream school.
Not sure where to go to college? Figure it out with these tips for choosing a school!