With the rising cost of higher education these days, families can find themselves extremely intimidated by the associated price tag. There are numerous options and resources available, however, to make this important life achievement within the average family’s reach.
The first step is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Most states and colleges use FAFSA information to award their financial aid. Once completed you’ll receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) from the US Department of Education. The front page of the SAR will show your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). This number is used by colleges and universities to determine the amount of your financial aid. The report will also detail which student loans and grants you have been awarded, but this is only the first step; more funding options are available outside of the FAFSA process.
1. Student Loans
The traditional federal student loans — Perkins, Direct, and DirectPLUS — are fairly standard. You borrow a certain amount of money, and the loan is repaid over a number of years with interest. There are also state loans to supplement the federal loans, and private loans available from commercial lenders (though these usually have the least favorable terms). Your college’s financial aid office often works with particular lenders to offer better deals than on the open market.
Unlike loans, grants don’t have to be paid back. There are Federal Pell Grants, campus-based grants like the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) and Federal Work Study program (FWS), and numerous specialized grants available to teachers, children of the military, and from particular institutions. Most grants will be awarded on the report provided after you fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
If you didn’t receive any grants or loans through the FAFSA process, all is not lost. Numerous community organizations and institutions offer scholarships for college. These are awarded based on merit, financial need, demographic, and sometimes in contests. The US Department of Labor’s free search tool can be a good place to start sorting through the labyrinth of scholarship sources.
The Alliance for Affordable Services believes very strongly in higher education, and thus since 1996 has offered its own Scholarship Program. Last year alone, we gave $130,000 to 103 deserving students. If you are an Alliance member or eligible dependent between the ages of 16 to 28, this scholarship could be for you! June 15th is the deadline to apply; if accepted, the scholarship can be renewed yearly for up to 3 years as long as you maintain a 3.5 GPA.
The Alliance College Guide
The Alliance has also created the Alliance College Guide, which helps students and their families with the information they need to prepare and apply to college. Throughout this online resource, you will find helpful tips, checklists and guidelines for succeeding in every step of the college search and admission process.