You’ve done all the hard work to get into college, but now make sure you’ve figured out how to pay for it.
Follow the steps below, and take the guesswork out of looking for ways to pay for college. Figure out how much you already have. Then look for free money that won’t have to be paid back, such scholarships and grants. Be sure to apply for different types of aid. You may be surprised at how much help you can get.
Assess your financial status
First, talk with your family to get an idea of how much your family may have saved for your education. It may be a small amount, it may be a lot, but whatever amount you find gives you a starting point. Remember to include any savings bonds or accounts, 529 account balances, gift money, trusts, pledges from family members for college help, and whatever you have put away for college. Write this amount down.
Now, with all these combined, you should have a good estimate of your family’s resources for your college expenses. As you compare the cost of different higher education options, you’ll have a better idea of what your family’s contribution covers and how much more you might need in financial aid to help pay for college.
Apply for Aid Early
Common sources of financial aid for students include:
- The federal government
- The state
- The college or university
- Nonprofit foundations
- The military and ROTC programs
To qualify for federal, and most state, need-based financial aid, you must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) each year in which you are going to be enrolled in college. Even if you aren’t sure you’ll qualify for aid, it never hurts to try and it’s a good idea for you and your parents to complete the FAFSA early in your senior year of high school. Completion of the FAFSA will determine if you are eligible for federal, state and other financial aid for college. Learn more and complete the FAFSA online: https://fafsa.ed.gov
For other types of aid, you may need to fill out separate applications. Make sure to note application deadlines and requirements. Your college may have its own applications. Non-profits and companies that offer college money may also require different forms. Make a spreadsheet with requirements and deadlines for all the types of aid you’ll be applying for so you don’t miss out.
Look into Merit- and Need-based Aid
A good first step is to look for scholarships and grants which usually offer money for college you won’t have to pay back.
Merit-based scholarships or grants typically are based on special talent, achievement, or skill, not necessarily on your financial need. Need-based scholarships or grants are based on financial need and require you to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
For free and accurate information about financial aid, go to CFNC.org, your high school counselor, or college financial aid office. You should never have to pay to get information about financial aid, apply for federal or state financial aid (using the FAFSA), or to receive financial aid.
But don’t stop there, see whether companies you or your parents have worked for offer any kind of financial help for college, check out non-profits related to your major, background, or interests, and look around the web for state and other aid programs. If you’re going to a North Carolina institution, your chances to get financial assistance from the state are higher than your chances to get aid through a national search. But explore all options.
Use these tools to learn more about finding grants and scholarships:
And check out the Department of Labor’s Scholarship Search Tool:
Keep your Scholarships, Grants, and Loans
Make sure you understand the eligibility requirements for aid. For federal aid, some of the criteria are:
- Financial need (for certain types of aid)
- Enrollment in a minimum of classes
- Satisfactory grades and progress
- Only using student aid money for educational expenses
- Citizenship or eligible non-citizen status
- Registration with the Selective Service if you’re male
- Filling out the FAFSA every year
The first four criteria above may apply to non-federal aid, too, so make sure you stay on top of those. Other requirements may include community service, participation in ROTC programs (for ROTC aid), part-time employment (for work-study or corporate programs), and a clean criminal record. Know the requirements so you don’t lose eligibility!
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