Show Me the Money: Paying for Your Degree Once You’re in School

If you're planning to pursue higher education, there are many ways to cut down on your school costs through scholarships, essay competitions, and campus jobs. An education can be a ticket to a higher income bracket and your dream job, but if you ignore the financial side you could end up taking on thousands in student debt that you’ll be paying for well into your golden years.

Finding Scholarships

Figuring out how to pay tuition is one of the most difficult things about college. If you're extremely lucky, your parents will have been saving for your education since they themselves were in diapers. But if you're like most people, your parents will help some and you'll need to pay for the rest of your schooling by yourself. The best time to take advantage of all the financial aid out there is before you even start university. However, if you’re searching for scholarships after you begin your studies, it’s not impossible to find money. There are a lot of opportunities out there if you look for them.

Many students concentrate their efforts on well-known scholarships with large awards, but you shouldn’t forget to look for smaller scholarships, which typically have fewer applicants and may yield more success. There are thousands of scholarships and essay competitions willing to give students anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to a few thousand. Though this might not seem like a lot of money in the face of massive tuition bills, a few of these scholarships can add up quickly. Cutting even $2,000 from your student loan bill can save you hundreds in interest over the life of the loan.

Check School's financial aid office!

You should start your search by checking with your school’s financial aid office. The people who work there have the training and expertise required to help you most in your search; you can explain your specific situation and should be able to get more targeted help. Second, you should search for scholarships in your community; reach out to local organizations and larger businesses to see if they have any scholarships available. Many organizations, like area Phi Beta Kappa associations, have money available for local students, and some businesses have money for those interested in going into specific fields. You shouldn’t be afraid to pick up the phone or send an email to see if something is available. The more persistent you are, the more successful you will be. Finally, you can use online databases to search for scholarships that fit you. The US Department of Labor has an extensive database, with over 7,500 scholarships, grants, and other types of financial aid. You can even filter your search by keyword, level of study, and award type.

Search Scholarships in your area / major

Once you’ve figured out your major or what sort of career you're interested in pursuing, you should start looking for field-specific scholarships or fellowships. For example, the Clarkston Scholars Program provides Pennsylvania sophomores pursuing study in the life sciences with $10,000 scholarships to help pay for their junior and senior years. However, every field is different, so you should start searching early. Surf the web, talk to older students in your major and reach out to your professors for inside knowledge. The people who will know the most about field specific opportunities, are the people who are currently in those fields.

Though it takes dedication and tenacity to search out the scholarships that fit your needs, there are a lot of resources that can help you find the right ones. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your financial aid office, professors, and peers for help.

Making Money on Campus

There are lots of opportunities on campus to make money. Almost every university will have odd jobs for students: college libraries always need shelvers, dining halls need dish washers, and professors need teaching and research assistants. You should start your search on your university’s student jobs website. If your school doesn’t have one, start emailing the library, dining hall, or university book store to find out if they have positions open. These jobs are ideal because they understand student schedules and are generally willing to work around your classes. You should keep a weather eye out for flyers posted around campus; many interesting jobs and opportunities may be advertised on library bulletin boards and nowhere else.

Once you get on campus and learn more about the faculty and departments, you can reach out directly to professors and registrars for course and teaching assistant positions. These jobs are best pursued once you’re an upperclassman or a graduate student"most professors are looking for students who have chosen their majors and are more experienced in their fields.

Finding TA/RA

Some universities do not allow undergraduates to serve as teaching assistants for their peers; you will have to check with your specific university to find out if you’re eligible. If your university does not allow undergrads to serve as TAs, you should still pursue research or lab assistant positions with your professors.

In order to increase your chances of grabbing one of these positions, keep your grades up and cultivate strong relationships with your professors. Without high grades professors are less likely to consider you for a position that involves teaching other students or doing advanced research. A strong relationship with the professor will ensure that he or she thinks of you first when searching for someone to help out. Talk to your professor after class and go to office hours. If you don’t have a specific question in mind, you should do a little research and come up with one that connects to your professor’s lectures or research interests; ensuring that your professor knows your name goes a very long way.

Finally, you shouldn’t be afraid to just email professors cold. Though you may be less likely to get a position if don’t know the professor personally, there’s no harm in asking. Email every professor your department to ask if anyone needs research assistance"you might just get lucky.

You Can Do It

Higher education is a fantastic investment in your future; recent college graduates typically make $17,500 per year more than their peers with only a high school degree.1 Though many people believe that college is out of reach, there are many opportunities available to fund your education even if you don’t initially receive much financial aid. Though searching for scholarships and jobs will require a great deal of persistence on your part, there’s a lot of money out there if you search for it.

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