You’ve decided that you’re just about ready to give college a try. You think that you can rearrange your life to fit in classes and homework, but you’re not sure how in the world you’ll be able to pay for all those classes that you need for your degree. Before you max out your credit cards, or give up the whole idea, check out the following resources. Some of them are designed specifically for adult college students, while others apply to both returning students and high school graduates who transition directly to college.
Before looking anywhere else for tuition assistance, fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) at the official website. You must submit the FAFSA to be eligible for government student aid, including Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG), federal loans, and work-study programs. As its title says, the application is free. Do not pay any company to fill out the FAFSA for you. In fact, you should stay away from any website or organization that charges you for anything to do with student financial aid. Reputable sites will not charge you for their assistance.
The Pell Grant and the FSEOG are found money, based on financial need. They do not have to be paid back. Subsidized federal student loans are also based on need, but they must be paid back, with interest, although repayment can often be deferred until after graduation. Unsubsidized federal student loans are similar, but they are not based on need. Also, repayment may still be deferred, but interest accrues on the loan during the deferral period. Another benefit of federal student loans is that their rates of interest are usually lower than are those on personal loans. A different type of option for needy students is the federal work-study program. In this program, the student receives pay for work he does for the university. This money, like grant money, does not have to be paid back.
Other sources of financial assistance are scholarships. The qualifications for adult students are generally the same as for high school students, ranging from academic excellence to enrolling in a particular university or degree program, to living in a particular city or state. Some scholarships are awarded by professional associations, so ask, if you belong to one. Others are available to women, or displaced homemakers, or ethnic groups. Search out all of the possibilities that you can, including asking whether your employer will offer any tuition assistance.
Other options allow tax breaks on money saved specifically for covering the costs of attending college. If you plan in advance, the Coverdell Education Savings Account allows you to save up to $2,000 per year, tax free, and is available for students up to age 30. The Section 529 Plan is a pre-paid tuition plan with no age restriction.
Last but not least, always check in with the Financial Aid office at any university you are considering attending. In addition to having the latest information available on federal assistance, many colleges and universities themselves offer financial aid to needy and deserving students.