This is the second in a three part series of affording homeschooling to college.
- Part 1: Lowering the cost without lowering standards
- Part 2: Financial Aid and Scholarships
- Part 3: Alternatives to traditional college (coming soon)
Among the myriad emotions as we graduate our first son from high school, we are shocked by college costs and possibility for long-term debt. But we learned a few things about how a middle class family can afford the cost of college.
Part 2: Financial Aid and Scholarships
Very few people pay full “sticker” price for college. Aid can come from savings, government programs (usually need-based), college grants (both need and grade based) outside scholarships and loans. I suppose aid can also come from wealthy relatives if you happen to have them. If not, read on.
Educational Savings accounts
This first one requires some advanced planning. If you are starting college, it’s too late. But if parents start young, this is the best way to go.
Educational Savings Accounts and 529 plans (which differ by state) are 2 ways to save and invest money without incurring additional tax. As long as the money is used for educational purposes, you do not pay tax on the return on the investment.
It’s never too early to save. In fact, the earlier, the better as your investment has a chance to grow. Most investment sites offer helpful tools to determine how much to save based on age.
Colleges like to recruit kids with good grades. Among the reasons for this preference: good students often maintain those good grades in college, graduate, and get good jobs – increasing that schools reputation.
In order to provide incentives to students applying, they almost always offer some kind of “grant” to entice you to come. It’s important to understand that the same people who are charging these outrageous prices are now pretending to help you by giving you some money to pay back to them. You can think of this as funny money. Regrettably, it’s a lot like buying a car or mattress. Bottom line: it’s part of the game of college finance. Take it if you can get it.
You usually need to actually apply to the college to see what they will offer you and the real cost of attendance. First apply to the college. If accepted, apply for aid. (see FAFSA below.)
Federal grants are from the US government. Though based on need, the Pell grant reaches well into the middle class and is based on how many siblings you have, the cost of the college and other factors.
- Federal Pell Grants – currently limited to $5,500/yr., does not need to be repaid, is partly based on family size, the cost of the college and other factors
- Federal Work Study – Yes, you can work you way through college, the old fashioned way. This program provides funds to the college itself or nearby institutions so they will hire students in part time jobs. It’s not much different from a regular job (also an option) but the understanding going in is that you are a student and likely more flexibility.
- TEACH Grant – up to $4,000 a year to students plan to begin a career in teaching. There are course requirements involved.
- FSEOG: Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants – The FSEOG is much more based on need than the Pell grant.
- State grants (and scholarships) –
Some states have their own set of grants, loans and other programs to encourage college attendance. But surprisingly, other states seem to only offer helpful advice and links. Here’s a list I compiled linking each state to it’s programs (if you have a link for Hawaii, Ohio or Oregon, leave it in the comments):
Alabama | Alaska | Arizona | Arkansas | California | Colorado | Connecticut | Delaware | District of Columbia | Florida | Georgia | Hawaii (no link?) | Idaho | Illinois | Indiana | Iowa | Kansas | Kentucky | Louisiana | Maine | Maryland | Massachusetts | Michigan | Minnesota | Mississippi | Missouri | Montana | Nebraska | Nevada | New Hampshire | New Jersey | New Mexico | New York | North Carolina | North Dakota | Ohio (no link?) | Oklahoma | Oregon (no link?) | Pennsylvania | Rhode Island | South Carolina | South Dakota | Tennessee | Texas | Utah | Vermont | Virginia | Washington | West Virginia | Wisconsin
FAFSA (Free Application for Student Financial Aid) is a standard form that you fill out once; But it can be accessed by any college to which you apply for aid. It needs to be completed close to January of the year you are a high-school senior. Each state has it’s specific deadlines but the earlier you complete this the better.
The form asks a lot of financial questions and requires the student and parent’s electronic or physical signature to attest you are being truthful.
Important note: you need to re-apply for FAFSA every new school year you are seeking aid.
Almost all colleges use this for to grant student aid, grants, work-study and loans.
- FAFSA – is the Free Application for Student Financial Aid required by most colleges.
While it’s true many scholarships are based on financial need, there are some offered for specific talents, groups and fields of study. Here are some categories you may fit into from Scholarships.com (this should give you ideas but the links do not list every scholarship):
- Academic Scholarships and Merit Scholarships
- Acting Scholarships
- Agnostic/Atheist Scholarships
- Athletic Scholarships
- Aviation Scholarships
- Bible Scholarships
- Cancer Scholarships
- Celebrity Scholarships
- College Scholarships and Grants for Single Mothers
- Community Service Scholarships
- Corporate Scholarships
- Dance Scholarships
- Disability Scholarships
- Distance Learning Scholarships
- Easy Scholarships
- Essay Scholarships
- Federal Scholarships
- Full Tuition Scholarships
- Green Scholarships
- International Student/Study Abroad Scholarships
- Largest Dollar Amount Scholarships
- Last Dollar Scholarship
- Legacy Scholarships
- Local Scholarships
- Military Scholarships
- Minority Scholarships
- Non-Academic College Scholarships: (not just for “A Students”)
- Online Scholarships
- Prestigious Scholarships
- Religious Scholarships
- Scholarship Contests & Sweepstakes
- Scholarship Essay Contests
- Scholarship Poetry Contests
- Scholarships for Adult Students
- Scholarships for Average Students
- Scholarships for Returning Students
- Scholarships for Summer
- Scholarships for Women
- September 11th Scholarships
- Study Abroad Scholarships
- Technology Scholarships
- Transfer Scholarships
- University Scholarships
- Unusual Scholarships
- Video Contest Scholarships
- Weird Scholarships
- Women’s College Scholarships, Grants & Fellowships
- Writing Scholarships
Most colleges have a helpful page of scholarship that fit their school programs. Here are a few independent sites to search for scholarships:
- Scholarships.com – search for scholarships by category
- Fastweb.com – will email you scholarships that match your criteria
- 800headstart.com – a private sector scholarship database
- freshinfo.com – search sources of scholarships fellowships and grants
- theoldschool.com – Financial aid resource center
- salliemae.com – a for-profit site but it has helpful info about college planning
- Federal Trade Commission – maintains a list of scholarship scams you should avoid
Federally guaranteed student loans can be a useful tool for financing an education. With nominal interest rates, it’s foolish not to take advantage of a small loan if you need it. However, the cost of college has increased steadily, recently rising 15% in just two years. This may tempt one to take a much larger loan.
Student loans (if large enough) could saddle your newly minted graduate with regular payments that will prevent him or her from moving out of the proverbial parents basement for quite some time. To begin adulthood under such a terrible burden would be unfortunate.
The worst part of student loans currently is, unlike most loans, even bankruptcy cannot provide relief. So if the burden of debt and the slow job market conspire against you, there is no way out.
Loans should always be a last resort. Student loans even more so.