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Great news: There are many ways to pay for school. In fact, about 64 percent of respondents to a recent Student Health 101 survey said they have a combination of grants and loans to help pay for tuition and other expenses.
- Usually awarded based on merit, such as excellence in sports or academics.
- Don’t need to be paid back, sometimes based on certain conditions.
Felecia Hatcher, author of The C Student’s Guide to Scholarships, had marginal grades in high school, but excelled in other activities. She was awarded $130,000 in scholarships. Her advice: Focus on what you’re great at or what you love. “Scholarships are essentially someone investing in you,” she says. “Really show who you are and why you deserve one.”
Hatcher won all local scholarships. “The pool is so much smaller,” she says. If you volunteer in your community, there may be scholarships based on service. If you work, your company might have money available for employees. Your hobbies, interests, and even personal struggles can all help qualify you for merit-based money.
Jamie Dickenson, a certified educational planner, helps students figure out how to pay for college. She says that your school’s financial aid officer needs to be your “new best friend.” “Start right in your back yard,” she explains.
Jasmine O., a senior at Wesley College in Dover, Delaware, says her financial aid office was a great resource. “I was given loads of scholarships to apply for, and I received extra funds,” she shares.
Also check out your academic department, where money may be available for upper-class students.
Dickenson says it’s important to apply for aid each year. If you didn’t get any scholarships last year, try again. Allison C., a sophomore at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia, works in her school’s financial aid office. She says students don’t realize what’s available. “I’ve received three scholarships by being active and communicating,” she explains.
- Usually awarded based on financial need.
- Don’t need to be paid back.
There are many sources for grants, from state and federal governments to non-profit organizations and even research and travel programs. Federal grants, such as the Pell program, usually have a maximum dollar amount that can be awarded over a person’s lifetime.
The government also offers Work-Study jobs: part-time positions that are often on campus. These are coordinated directly with your school.
Learn more about Federal Work-Study Programs
The jobs can be on- or off campus, but will likely be in your area of study or in community service. You apply for these positions in the same way you would a federal student loan, and if you get one, you’ll work part-time and make at least minimum wage.
Not all schools have Work-Study positions. If yours doesn’t, ask about Residential Advisor (RA) positions or other paid roles on campus. You may get your housing at a reduced rate or even free, and possibly a break on some of your school fees, too.
There are many different kinds of loans as well as lenders.
- All loans have to be paid back.
- Some are based on financial need.
The federal government runs a program calledFederal Student Aid, for example, and offers bothsubsidized and unsubsidized loans. These are available to undergraduate students who can demonstrate financial need. If subsidized, the loan’s interest is paid for you (by the government) until you’re done with school.
Unsubsidized government loans are available to anyone, regardless of financial need. This is true of bank loans, too. You’ll likely have to start paying interest on these loans right away, right when you enroll in school.
Loan applications can be complicated. For a bank loan, you might need a cosigner, someone who’ll be responsible for paying back your loan if you can’t. For government loans, you’ll probably need detailed information from your parents or guardian.
Sometimes loan applications can be derailed by the simplest of mistakes. Dickenson says, “Many students miss their deadlines because they don’t check their email.”
If you’re offered a loan, you don’t need to take all of the money available. If you don’t need it, don’t borrow it! The “cost of attendance” information published on your school Web site can help you plan for how much you’ll need.
Once you’re in school, keep on top of your loan:
- Keep records of money you receive.
- Know when you’ll be expected to start making payments.
- Find out what your minimum payments will be.
- Understand when interest will start to accrue and whether the rate is fixed, meaning it never changes, or variable.
Some loans have grace periods, meaning time after you’ve borrowed when you don’t need to make payments. Inquire about factors that may influence when you need to start repaying—such as certain kinds of work or service to your community. Some programs even forgive some portion of loan debt, meaning some of it won’t be owed.
Lauren C., a senior at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, says, “Before I borrowed I did a lot of research and entered different figures into college calculators.” Now she sets an alarm on her computer as a reminder to pay monthly.
If you have loans for living expenses, it may be tempting to use some for items that aren’t related to school.
Avoid this temptation
Can’t I Spend Just a Little Bit?If you receive money directly from a lender, it might be tempting to spend a bit of your big check on a night out or a new pair of shoes. But remember: You’ll be paying it all back later, with interest.
Carrie O., a junior at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, advises, “Loans should be used for things that must be paid for.”
Her philosophy is, “Pay when you can (even if you don’t have to), and more than you have to.” If she doesn’t spend her entire loan, she gives it back at the end of the year.
It can be hard to keep track of how much you’re spending. Try organizing your money into separate accounts and making a budget for the school year. While a loan may seem like a lot of money at first, figuring out how to make it last for the whole year might put things into perspective.
Carrie has a job to cover her non-school expenses. If you find yourself needing extra spending money, consider a part-time job, even for just a few hours a week.
There are plenty of free Web sites and apps for managing financial commitments. You can set up payment reminders and goals, and see everything in a spiffy graphic form, too.
- Research scholarships based on your skills and interests.
- Make an appointment with a financial advisor at your school.
- Make sure you understand the terms of all financial aid, especially loans.
- Gather all your loan documents in one place.
- Use free sites or apps to stay on top of your financial commitments.
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