It’s that time again. High school seniors are checking their inboxes or logging into college application portals to see the one sentence they’re hoping for: You’re accepted!
After celebrating college admission, the next hurdle is figuring out how to pay for it. If you don’t have a college fund or its balance isn’t enough to pay for a four-year education, you’re going to need financial aid.
Financial Aid Study Guide
Financial aid comes in several forms from a variety of sources: colleges and universities, federal and state agencies, and for-profit and non-profit entities. Before you commit to the school of your choice, familiarize yourself with how each type of financial aid works.
- Student loans: Available through the federal government and from financial institutions, these loans are available for you to pay for college. Most federal student loans have a six-month grace period after graduation before you have to begin repaying them. Private loan repayment requirements vary by institution, so check before signing any loan document.
- Federal Work-Study: With this program, you work part-time to help pay for your college expenses at a job either on campus or at a private organization with a work-study arrangement with your school.
- Grants: This gift aid has no repayment requirement and is typically offered on a need basis by the federal government, your state or your school.
- Scholarships.com: Generally awarded for academic or athletic merit, scholarships are also gift aid that doesn’t need to be paid back.
Students interested in applying for a federal student loan, a federal grant or the federal work-study program need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form for each academic year that they are in college. For 2023-2024, FAFSA opened on October 1, 2022 and closes on June 30, 2024. Loans are distributed on a first-come-first-serve basis, so it’s best to apply as soon as possible.
Even if you’re not sure if you’d qualify for a federal student loan or grant, most experts recommend filling out the FAFSA. Some scholarship applications even require that you do.
Many who qualify for federal student loans find that they’re not enough to fully cover college costs, which have skyrocketed. The average total cost of college is currently estimated at $35,551 per year, with the average price tag at an in-state public university of $25,707 and at private institution of $54,501.
Scholarships help bridge the gap between your college savings or student loan and the amount you’ll owe in tuition, fees, room and board. Even though the deadlines for some scholarships for the upcoming academic year have already passed, many others are still accepting applications until as late as early June. Here are five places to look for them.
1. Scholarship Databases
You can start with websites that list available scholarships. Some popular ones include:
- BigFuture: Listed by the College Board, which sponsors the SAT and high school AP courses, BigFuture is a searchable database where students can “find scholarships, other financial aid and internships from more than 6,000 programs, totaling nearly $4 billion.”
- BrokeScholar: You can search for “over $52 million in scholarship awards” through BrokeScholar. It even lets you filter your search by study area, gender or ethnicity.
- Chegg: Originally started as a textbook rental company for college students, Chegg now offers a scholarship search.
- Fastweb: Started in 1995, Fastweb includes a scholarship database among its college-related resources.
- Scholarhips.com: Students can search for “over 3.7 million scholarship and grants and about $19 billion in financial aid” on Scholarships.com.
2. Your High School
Next, talk with your guidance counselor and check your high school’s website. Both are likely to have information about local scholarships not listed on the above sites. There may also be scholarships offered specifically to students from your high school by local families, charities or companies with a relationship to it.
3. Local Organizations
Another good source of localized scholarships are civic organizations and foundations in your city or state. For example, local Rotary and Lions clubs offer scholarships to students living in their communities.
4. Your College or University
Most schools offer their own scholarship awards at the time of acceptance based on your application. If you didn’t receive such an offer, it’s still worth checking the school’s website. Some offer additional scholarship options that require a separate application.
A lot of companies offer tuition reimbursement to their student employees. Some firms even offer scholarship programs for employees or the children of their employees. Check with a manager or the HR department to find out what’s available to you.
Quick Cheat Sheet
And here are a few more tips:
- Fill out next year’s FAFSA as soon as possible after October 1.
- Be aware of scholarship scams.
- Younger high school students can start looking for scholarships before their senior year.
Finally, have a conversation with your child about how to manage their money in college before they leave home in the fall.
Editor’s note: Quorum is not affiliated with any of the companies mentioned in this article and derives no benefit from these businesses for placement in this article.