Before applying for loans, make sure you check into grants, scholarships and financial aid. Also check in with employers’ HR. Numerous federal, state programs are out there for prospective students Keep all options on the table as you search for savings.
Pursue grants and scholarships
The big advantage of scholarships and grants is that you don’t have to pay back the money — it’s given outright. Some scholarships are for tuition only, others cover related expenses like books, housing and so forth. There are three main groups that give scholarships and grants.
The federal government and state governments have numerous programs, most of them based on the student’s financial need. The best known of these is the federal Pell Grant, given to undergraduate students. Another area of government aid is for people from community service programs like Americorps, or from the military.
Individual schools usually have grants for their own students. These are somewhat more common in private universities with large endowments, but may be available at public universities as well — for instance, grants for students who transfer from a community college.
Don’t rule out financial aid
Don’t assume that you make too much money to be eligible for financial aid.
Although the financial aid staff looks at your household income, they also look at your circumstances — such as the size of your household. Make sure the school has all relevant information at the time of your application. For instance, tell them if you have unusual medical expenses, either as a one-time situation or on an ongoing basis.
Once the financial aid office has made an offer, if you think they’re expecting too much as your contribution, you can ask for a reevaluation.
In addition, if your circumstances change — even in the middle of a school year — let the financial aid office know right away. If you (or your spouse or parent) lose your job, for instance, that will obviously have a huge impact on your ability to pay your share.
File your FAFSA
If you haven’t already done so, file your taxes as soon as possible. You’ll need information from your tax return to fill out a FAFSA. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is the form you use to apply for all financial aid, not just federal but state and school-specific. You can find the FAFSA at www.fafsa.ed.gov.
The due date to be considered for federal financial aid is June 30. The deadline in Pennsylvania is May 1, except for some two-year programs, which have an August 1 deadline. In New Jersey, the deadline is June 1.
Check in with your employer
Many companies and unions offer tuition assistance. Some plans assist not only the employee, but his or her spouse or children. Others cover only the employee, and sometimes only cover courses that the employee takes to improve his or her job skills.
Check with the human resources department to find out:
Who is covered
What courses, programs and schools are eligible
What the financial arrangements are (does the company pay the school directly, or do you have to pay tuition and fees up front, getting reimbursed after the term?)
Other terms and limitations (does the student have to achieve a certain minimum grade?)