When you get your college acceptance letter, you might be on top of the world. After all, you’re ready to jump in and learn exactly how to follow your dreams, whether that dream is to become a microbiologist, lawyer, or business tycoon.
But the feeling when you see the estimated cost of attending your school or glance at your first tuition bill might be a whole lot less pleasant. In fact, the cost of attending college can be a significant factor when it comes to decisions about whether or not to attend college at all.
But luckily, there are places you can find “free money” for college. These types of funding options can help you manage the cost of attendance, which is continually creeping up. According to Forbes, students and families are now paying an average of almost $40,000 per year for tuition. Finding free money to cover the cost of college can help you succeed by letting you focus on your midterms instead of tuition bills.
Free Money For College!?
Yep, that’s right! It is possible to find “free money” for school. In searching for free money for college, it may be helpful to start your search with scholarships and grants. Scholarships and grants are two types of funding that you generally don’t need to repay, which means that nabbing a scholarship or grant equals free money for school. Sounds good, right? Here’s what you need to know about scholarships and grants.
Scholarships are typically merit-based awards given to students for certain activities, achievements, or characteristics.
Scholarships can be a smart way to help finance your degree because there are so many different types available, whether you’re looking for awards honoring your high grades, your achievement as an Eagle Scout , or your ability to do a killer duck call .
Scholarships can also be based on a specific trait, like your race or ethnicity, if you’re a first-generation college student, or where you live.
Grants, on the other hand, are typically need-based awards. This means that while grants are similar to scholarships, they generally have eligibility requirements that take into account a student’s financial means and their expected family contribution (sometimes abbreviated as EFC).
Like scholarships, grants do not typically have to be paid back, but different grants have different rules and requirements, so it’s always a good idea to read the fine print. In order to qualify for a grant, you will likely need to meet financial eligibility criteria set by the grantor.
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Finding Scholarships and Grants
Okay, so now you know the two big types of free money for college, but how exactly are you supposed to track down different grants and scholarships?
Because scholarships and grants are offered by many various organizations, from your college to private businesses, it can be hard to know where to look if you don’t want to spend more time looking for funding than studying. Luckily, there are some smart ways to simplify the search for free money for school.
When it comes to scholarships, you might consider starting with a scholarship database . Scholarship databases compile many different types of scholarships and let you create a profile with all of your information—which could help you match with scholarships that you’d be a great candidate for.
And speaking of being a good candidate, one of the most critical parts of the scholarship application process is that you shouldn’t sell yourself short. You might want to make a list of all the scholarships that you think you have a chance to qualify for, whether they seem like a long-shot or not. You might not get them all, but the more you apply for, the more opportunities you have to secure some of that free money.
And when deciding which scholarships you might qualify for, think broadly—consider making a list of your interests, background traits, or achievements to keep in mind while you search.
For example, if the pharmaceutical company your mom works for offers a scholarship for children of employees, you may want to apply even if you’re not interested in biotech. In other words, don’t count yourself out before you’ve even applied.
When it comes to grants, the process can look a little different. While scholarship databases may have some grants listed, these are often awarded through your school. The awards typically come either as part of the federal financial aid process or as a separate application process.
For example, one common type of grant is the Pell Grant , which is awarded to students with significant financial need from the federal government during the financial aid award process.
But in addition to federal grants, schools may also have institutional grants available to some qualified students who apply. When it comes to finding those types of grants, a great first step may be to talk to your school’s financial aid office and ask for a list of grants available to students.
Whether you’re applying for a scholarship or grant, there are certain things you can do to make the process easier. Just like when it comes to your schoolwork, it is crucial to keep your scholarship application information organized.
Consider keeping a file containing important information like your grades, certificates, awards, and SAT/ACT scores. You may also want to keep a copy of your FAFSA® (the application you fill out to apply for federal student aid—more on that below), as it will contain much of the information you may need for some institutional grant applications.
Other Options to Help Pay For College
One important thing to consider when making plans to pay for college is that there are many different ways of paying for school, and students and their parents may use a combination of methods to cover the cost of attendance. Many students who attend college take out some type of student loan. Unlike grants and scholarships, student loans need to be paid back—with interest.
The federal government offers student loans to college students through the federal student loan program. You apply for federal student loans using the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). Many students’ first choice for student loans are federal loans because they may have favorable interest rates , and borrowers may qualify for loan forgiveness or income-driven repayment plans down the road.
The amount of money you may borrow in certain types of federal student loans is limited, however, and not all students will be able to rely solely on federal student loans to meet the cost of attendance. In that case, some students might turn to private student loans after all their federal aid options are depleted. For some students, a private student loan may be a helpful solution for covering the remaining costs.
If you think a private student loan might be right for you, be sure to do your research before applying. In the spirit of complete transparency, we want you to know that we believe you should exhaust all of your federal grant and loan options before you consider SoFi as your private loan lender.
If you do decide that a private student loan is the right fit for your education, we’re happy to help! SoFi’s private student loan process is easy and fast. We offer flexible payment options and terms, and don’t worry, there are no hidden fees.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.