1) Apply for FAFSA. This is the most important thing you can do for yourself. If you do only one thing on this list APPLY FOR FAFSA! By doing this you can enable yourself to scholarships and grants that you normally wouldn’t be able to apply for. How? Most scholarships, especially after your freshman year of college, rely on FAFSA information to see how much money you need for school. You don’t need to be in a low-income household to receive money though. This is a myth. While being low-income enables you to receive more grants you can still qualify for scholarships if you’re middle to high income. While grades are important many look at FAFSA too, so be sure to fill it out!
2) Look for scholarships EVERYWHERE. Still in high school? Look in your guidance counselor’s office. No longer in high school? Go back to your high school and look in your guidance counselor’s office. There are scholarships in there that can be renewed and are often specifically for kids from your high school, so you have a better chance at getting those than national scholarships. Online sources can be great too. Websites like College Board, School Soup, Fastweb, and Scholarships.com are all great ways to find a vast amount of scholarships in a short amount of time. With direct links to websites it’s the fastest way to get to applications and check deadlines. They also allow you to customize your search based on your talents, activities, and lifestyle, which help match you to scholarships you actually qualify for. Don’t forget to look in your major’s department. Ask your professor or advisor about scholarship opportunities. You only have to compete with students in your grade and major for those which increases your chances of winning!
3) Work. Parents can’t always pay your entire tuition by themselves. Why not show a little gratitude and determination and work off some of that tuition bill yourself? Your parents will appreciate it, you’ll appreciate your education more (or at least you should since you’re paying for it and why pay for a class if you’re just going to skip), and you won’t need to take out nearly as much in loans. Which brings me to my next point:
4) Be careful with loans! We’re in a very fragile economy right now. Loans are getting harder to take out, especially for students. Many companies that used to be willing to give out students loans are now telling students no way. Those that are still saying yes are saying it to fewer students and have stricter rules with higher interest rates. If you need to take out a loan you should try to a) take out a federal loan (especially one willing to pay the interest while you’re in school) and/or b) don’t take out the full amount you’re being offered (if you do this, subtract money from a loan that would accrue interest while you’re still in school). By doing this you’ll save at least a couple hundred dollars worth of interest, if not more. By working just $1000 worth of your tuition instead of taking it out in loans you can save up to $825 on a 10 year loan with an 8.25% interest rate. That’s a lot of money! Even better: if you work off your tuition bill and still have money to spare pay off your loans before they go into repayment. Most federal loans don’t punish you for paying early. You don’t need to pay it in full but any little bit helps. Loans should always be a last resort, but for those that need to take them out try to be as smart as possible about them.
Remember though to ALWAYS read the fine print on everything. That includes loans, scholarships, financial aid award letters, and even school book receipts.