To call college expensive is an understatement. With the average college asking you to pay between 10,000 and 36,000 dollars a year, most college students depend on some combination of financial aid, scholarships, or loans to foot the bill. However, as a high schooler weighing college options, the world of financial aid can feel overwhelming. If you're struggling to understand financial assistance, here's a simple explanation of the different options available to help make your college dreams a reality.
Need-Based Financial Aid
Need-based financial aid comes directly from your college or university based on your family's income. To get need-based assistance, you usually need to fill out the FAFSA or the CCS profile, which your school will use to determine how much aid you will receive in the financial aid package that accompanies your acceptance letter. Many people don't know that, if you don't receive enough aid, you can appeal to your school and try asking for more assistance. I highly recommend trying to do this; the worst thing they can say is no!
Merit-Based Financial Aid
Merit-based aid is what many people typically think of as scholarships. This aid, based on your academic or athletic accomplishments, is awarded to you by your school with your acceptance letter. While some schools don't offer merit-based aid, those that do will use it to incentivize high-achieving students like you to come to their school!
Federal Loans and Grants
The government has many programs to help you finance your education. Federal grants, such as the Pell Grant, are a great way to get money that you don't have to pay back. However, if you aren't awarded a grant, taking out federal loans that you will pay back over time is another viable option. Taking out loans is a very serious decision that will affect your finances for years to come—so be sure to carefully consider what it means for you and your family before deciding to take on debt.
Third-party scholarships are a great way to cover the gap that financial aid and loans won't cover. While finding and applying to scholarships may take a significant amount of time, I recommend applying to as many as possible. A great place to start your search for third-party scholarships is finaid.org.
Work-study is another way to finance your education in partnership with your school. By taking on a job on campus, you can help to pay for part of your tuition. Most work-study jobs will require you to work between 10 and 25 hours a week, so it' is a significant commitment, but it will make college considerably more affordable. If you're looking for more information, this Department of Education explanation is an excellent place to start.
Getting College Credit in High School
An option that many students forget to think about is getting college credits in high school. By knocking out credits as early as possible, you can spend less time in college and, ultimately, less money on tuition! You may have to be proactive to get these credits, but it is definitely worth it!
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