1. Fill Out the FAFSA
The first step to getting money for college is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Once you apply for FAFSA, you'll learn what types of financial aid are available, such as Pell grants, loans, and work-study opportunities, which can help cover most or all of your college expenses. Although some financial aid may be based on financial status, there is also state money offered to students who major in certain subject areas or maintain above-average grades.
2. Be Smart With the Money You Do Have
Your assets and your income will be assessed to determine your need for financial aid. The less you have in assets the more you get in aid. To maximize your aid package, do the following as soon as possible:
- Put your savings in your parents' name. Their assets are assessed up to 5.65%; yours are assessed at 20%.
- Liquidate your assets. Sell everything you don't need and put the proceeds in a 401K account or a savings account in your parents' name.
- Pay off your debt. Huge amounts of debt don't necessarily help your chances of getting aid.
- Convert your debts. Auto loans, personal loans and credit card debt cannot be deducted from your assets. However, you do get credit for home equity loan debt, mortgages, margin loans and passbook loans. If you can't pay off your debt, convert it into something you get credit for.
3. Look for Grants and Scholarships
Grants and scholarships are the preferred financial aid option for most students, since they don't need to be paid back. These awards come from all sorts of sources, including the federal government, state and local governments, professional associations, community organizations and individual companies or benefactors. Many of the nation's top schools also offer institution-based scholarships. Make sure you learn what's required to apply for these awards and submit applications by the given deadlines.
4. Ask Your Employer for Assistance
Find out if your employer offers a tuition assistance program. Many employers will pay part or all of your college tuition during the time of your employment. Some employers may require you to choose a major that relates to your line of work, which benefits both you and the employer by applying what you learn. Make sure to find out if there are any qualifying requirements - for example, many tuition assistance programs require you to hold a certain grade point average.
5. Apply for Loans
Applying for loans should be your last resort. However, if you've already applied for federal grants and scholarships and still need more money to cover your college expenses, there are federal, state and low-interest private loan programs available. Research student loans online with different banks, and make sure you compare interest rates in order to get the best deal.