Financial aid - How to get funding for your College?

Congratulations! You stand at the threshold of one of the most important and formative experiences of your lifetime: attending an institution of higher education. The process of getting into college is certainly more of a marathon than a sprint. The successes and failures of the past four years have all come to bear upon this moment. But whether you are still in the process of deciding where to apply or you are holding that coveted acceptance letter, your work isn’t finished; you need a plan for how you will pay for your education.

In order to craft your financial plan, it is important to educate yourself about all the options. Fortunately, students such as yourself have many to choose from. Once you have a sense of which options are right for you, you can begin to craft a plan for making those options become reality. Here are four options to consider right from the start:

Find free money

Contrary to common misconception, there are scholarships for just about every student, regardless of background. The challenge, however, is finding those scholarship programs that are right for you. High school guidance counselors, local community organizations and businesses, and online searches are the best resources for finding free money for college. To increase your chances of receiving an award, you should submit applications for as many scholarships as you are eligible. Just remember that you are not alone in your quest for scholarship money; expect strong competition, especially for larger awards.

In the quest for scholarship dollars, it’s best to go into the process with an open mind.

Fill out the FAFSA

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application has become a rite of passage for every college-bound student. Submitting a FAFSA is your first step to receiving various types of financial assistance for undergraduate or graduate programs. Every year, the U.S. Department of Education awards over $120 billion in tuition assistance through federal tuition assistance programs. After your FAFSA is received by the office of Federal Student Aid, a determination will be made of your eligibility for federal aid. Your financial aid package likely will be comprised of a variety of funding sources. Federal student aid includes:

Join the Military

Since 1916, the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) has been preparing young adults to become the next generation of military officers. Over 1,700 college and university campuses in the U.S. have an ROTC program on campus. ROTC students receive up to four-years of free college education in exchange for a guaranteed commission in one of the five branches of the U.S. military (Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, or Coast Guard). At various times throughout the school year, ROTC students attend leadership classes and receive specialized military training. After graduation, ROTC students are committed to serve as an officer in the military for up to four years. Officers who choose to complete 20 years of service receive outstanding retirement benefits, and many benefits offered to service members may be transferred to their dependents. (Did you know your military service could help pay for your children to go to college in the future?) Additionally, there is high demand in the civilian workforce for individuals with military experience and training. Any U.S. citizen eligible for military service may apply and acceptance rates are strong.

Consider studying abroad

You may be surprised to learn that the U.S. government manages the largest international exchange student program in the world. In 1946, the Fulbright Program was established to promote mutual understanding and respect among nations through the exchange of people, knowledge and skills. Every year, the U.S. sends Fulbright students and scholars to nearly 140 countries as unofficial cultural ambassadors. Administered by the State Department, these highly competitive grants are open for individuals pursuing coursework in a variety of subjects including fine arts, humanities, social sciences, mathematics, and science. Successful recipients of Fulbright scholarships and grants have strong academic records, demonstrated leadership potential, and a passion for cross-cultural experiences. Candidates must submit a compelling project proposal or statement of purpose, as well as a personal statement and three to four letters of recommendation as part of their application.

As you can see, there are many creative ways to pay for your college experience. Coming up with the right financial strategy won’t happen overnight. The best plan will be a combination of options that work best for you and could take many months to fully develop. Don’t be discouraged if not everything comes together quickly or if you have to make adjustments along the way. Remember: if you stay the course, you will succeed!