The cost of college is constantly on the rise. The average cost of attending a four-year public college has increased over 40% since 2000. And according to a report from the Campaign for America’s Future (PDF link), just one year at a public university consumes 25% of the annual median household income in the United States, while one year at a private university consumes 57%. Considering how expensive it is becoming to attend college, it’s no wonder that approximately $90 billion in financial aid money is awarded to United States college students each year. So you’re about to go to college, or perhaps you’re already in college. How can you get your hands on this money?
Where to Go First
To help get you on the right track, you should first consult with your high school counselor or your university’s financial aid office. Schedule an appointment with someone in one of those departments and he/she will help you find the money you need. (You’ll need to do plenty of work on your own, as well.)
Free money for college is money you receive that you won’t have to pay back, as opposed to a loan. Typically, this free money comes in the form of either a scholarship, fellowship, or grant.
- Scholarships and fellowships. Over a million scholarships are awarded each year. There are scholarships based on athletic ability, academic merit, disability, race, nationality, religious affiliation, relation to a cancer victim, location, and more. With a little bit of research and patience, everyone should be able to find a pretty big list of eligible scholarships to apply for. Use FastWeb’s free scholarship search to find scholarships and fellowships that you may be eligible for. Just be sure to watch out for any scholarship scams.
- Federal Pell Grant. A Pell Grant is a federal assistance grant that is awarded to students who have not already earned a bachelor’s degree. While most Pell Grants are awarded to students with family incomes below $20,000, most students with family incomes below $50,000 are eligible. Awards range from $400 to $4,050.
- Federal Supplement Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG). Like the Pell Grant, the FSEOG is available to students with exceptional financial need who have not already earned a bachelor’s degree. Awards range from $100 to $4,000 per year.
- Academic Competitiveness Grant. The Academic Competitiveness Grant is available to all first-year college students who graduated high school after January 1, 2006 and all second-year college students who graduated high school after January 1, 2005. This grant provides up to $750 for the first year of college and up to $1,300 for the second year of college, provided the student is eligible for the Pell Grant, has successfully completed a rigorous high school program, and can maintain a 3.0 GPA.
- National SMART Grant. The National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent (SMART) Grant is available for third- and fourth-year college students maintaining a 3.0 GPA who are eligible for the Pell Grant and who are majoring in physical science, life science, computer science, mathematics, technology, engineering, or in a foreign language deemed critical to national security. This grant awards up to $4,000 per year.
- Institutional grants. Contact your university’s financial aid office to request information on any institutional grants that they may offer. These grants are typically merit-based and will help to cover the costs of education not covered by any federal assistance money.
Scholarships for Nerds
If you’re at this website, you’re probably a computer buff. Use that to your advantage when applying for these scholarships.
- Become an Apple Scholar. For the computer nerds in the crowd, Apple awards scholarships to high school seniors who use technology in academics in an innovative way. The winners get a new MacBook Pro, iPod Nano, and $2,000.
- Google for girls. For you young female techies, Google offers the Anita Borg Scholarship that awards $10,000 in scholarship money to women entering their senior year of undergraduate study in computer science, computer engineering, or related technical field majors.
- Put on your Red Hat. Each year, Red Hat Scholarships are awarded to computer science students at universities in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Srilanka, and Bhutan. The scholarship is awarded to individuals who have developed open source software.
- IEEE Computer Society. The IEEE Computer Society awards $4,000 in scholarship money to college juniors, seniors, and graduate students who are studying in a computer-related field.
- Microsoft scholarships. Microsoft awards more than $500,000 in scholarship money each year to current undergraduate students.
Loans typically are not free money. In most cases they will need to be repaid within 10 years of graduating, unless you qualify for loan forgiveness.
- Perkins Loan. A Perkins Loan is a campus-based loan that is provided from your school from a limited pool of federal government money. The interest rate is fixed at 5%. The amount you receive is determined by your school’s financial aid office. This loan is limited to $4,000 per year for undergraduate students, with a cumulative limit of $20,000. If your school participates in the Expanded Learning Option (ELO), the annual limit is raised by $1,000 and the cumulative limit is raised by $5,000.
- Stafford Loan. A Stafford Loan is provided to you either through a private lender (Federal Family Education Loan Program, or FFELP) or directly to you from the U.S. government (Federal Direct Student Loan Program, or FDSLP). Stafford Loans are either subsidized, meaning the government pays the interest while you’re in school, or unsubsidized, in which you are responsible for paying the interest. Beginning July 1, 2007, dependents may borrow up to $3,500 for your freshman year, $4,500 for your sophomore year, and $5,500 for each remaining year. These loans have a fixed rate of 6.8% if first disbursed after July 1, 2006.
- Federal Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students (PLUS). A PLUS Loan allows a student’s parents to borrow money to cover any costs not already covered by the student’s financial aid package. The interest rate on this type of loan is fixed at 8.5% for all loans first disbursed after July 1, 2006.
- Private student loans. Beyond what you receive from the federal government, you can also request additional loan money from a private lender. See FinAid’s list of private student loans for more details.Many people are turning to the flexibility of online college, and there are many great resources online when you are looking for online education degree news.