If college is in your future or your child’s future, finding a way to fund the tremendous expense can be a daunting task. For those that can demonstrate financial need, finding free money for college has never been easier. The same stands true for those that can afford to pay for part of the tuition but need a bit of help in making up the difference. If you’re looking for assistance with college tuition, consider one of these five sources for free money.
Federal Pell Grant
Based on financial need, the money is funded by the federal government and paid directly to the college or university you will be attending. The amount of the award is dependent upon the EFC, or estimated family contribution, as determined by the FAFSA, Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Students may be awarded as little as a few hundred dollars per semester or as much as several thousand dollars per semester. Monies can be used for tuition and any school related expenses that you incur.
Scholarships come from many sources. Individuals, businesses, organizations and schools are all sources of great scholarships. You have to remember, though, that there are very few scholarships that will come to you; you have to go looking for them. If you don’t qualify for a scholarship one year, be sure to apply for more the next as they are typically handed out on a per year or per semester basis.
There are programs, such as the 529 college savings plan, that will match initial deposits. $1,000 may not seem like a lot, but over the course of 18 years, the interest earned can be substantial. Look for any opportunity for matching gifts when you open a savings account. Be sure to let your bank know what the money is for so that your money can get routed to the proper type of account.
Similar to the federal Pell grants, almost every state has a grant program. You apply in the same way, through the FAFSA, and are awarded monies based on financial need. The grants from the state are smaller than those from the federal government but every little bit helps.
Colleges and universities themselves offer need-based grants to students when federal and state grants don’t cover the entire cost of tuition, room and board. These grants are not applied for but awarded by the institutions financial aid office. Keep your grades up, involve yourself in extra-curricular activities and you may find yourself the recipient of an institutional grant.
The first step in finding free money for college is to fill out the FAFSA as early as you can each year. While you do need your previous year’s income tax information, you can estimate your numbers and provide correct ones at a later date. Remember, free money for college isn’t going to come looking for you; you must be proactive in your search for grants and scholarships if you hope to receive financial awards.
Terry Southerland is a career counselor and content contributor that specializes in online degrees and specialty field endeavors such as early childhood education degree programs.