Whatever form your college education takes – whether it’s in a traditional university or online institution – you have to be thinking about how you’re going to pay for it. The cost of education continues to rise, but if you’re determined to achieve the success that education beyond high school can bring, the investment is worth it. But that doesn’t mean managing the cost isn’t a challenge.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the costs for traditional secondary education have been on the rise over the last decade. During their most recent study, they determined that college can run students anywhere from $16,000 to $35,000. And that’s not even including the additional $15,000 for room, board, books, and lab fees. When faced with the reality of paying for college, many prospective students rethink their decision to pursue their degrees. But before you decide against a secondary education (either through a traditional learning institution or in a virtual university), take the time to research the opportunities provided by governmental financial aid and scholarships.
GOVERNMENT FINANCIAL AID
The U.S. government has a vested interest in an educated populace, and has committed resources to provide students (both traditional and virtual) with financial aid for college. This year, the federal government has set aside $67 billion in federal financial aid. Federal student aid is defined as financial assistance through the U.S. Department of Education that’s available if you’re enrolled in an eligible program as a regular student (meaning a full- or part-time student attending an accredited college). Federal student aid covers school expenses such as tuition, room and board, books, school supplies, and transportation. Monies can also be applied for computers and equipment, and childcare expenses.
To apply for governmental financial aid, download and complete the necessary financial aid forms, such as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. Once the FAFSA is submitted, the Department of Education will send a Student Aid Report which is used to determine any available governmental financial aid. If your FAFSA application is approved, you can expect to receive either a cash grant that can be used for tuition, books, lab fees, etc., or a subsidized-interest student loan. Depending upon the nature of the grant, it may or may not have to be repaid. Look into Pell Grants and Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG), neither of which need to be reimbursed.
Eligibility for federal student financial aid programs is based on several factors, most of which you will provide on your FAFSA. You’ll need to demonstrate financial need, be a U.S. citizen (or eligible non-citizen with a valid Social Security number or Visa), be actively working towards a degree at an accredited institution (virtual or traditional), and have either high school diploma or a General Education Development (GED) Certificate. Also, note that in order to keep any grants or loans, you must maintain a minimum grade point average once in school (which will be determined by the institution granting you the money).
Thanks to the generosity of people and corporations worldwide, there are literally thousands of college scholarship opportunities. Some depend upon academic achievement in high school. Some are focused on race and ethnicity, some on athletic achievement, some on religious background, and others on hobbies, interests and employment. Some are specifically designated for students with a low GPA and low test scores. There are several ways to get more information about these opportunities. If you are in high school, talk to your guidance counselors. If you have a local college nearby, speak to the folks in the financial aid office. Even if that is not the school you plan to attend, financial aid officers are still a useful resource. Ask your employer’s Human Resource Office about scholarships, matching grants, subsidized educational reimbursement, and student loan opportunities. Check your civic club and other local association websites to see if they offer any scholarship funds. Finally, find thousands of scholarship sources via the Internet. Scholarship search engines such as FastWeb, CollegeNet, The College Board, and College Tool Kit have lots of information and resources for prospective students.
With a little footwork, you’ll find that going for your college degree isn’t so scary anymore.