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How To Find Money For College, And More

Dec 13, 2007
To find money for college, you have choices - loans, grants, the lottery, scholarships, casinos, and your parents huge stash of cash for you to attend the college of your dreams. If you need cash and you are in school, this article has a few good ideas and a serious reminder for you.

Apply for Aid
You have to apply, of course, to get financial aid from the government. You will need to fill out a Free Application for Financial Student Aid, the good old FAFSA form. If you have done this, you likely already have a Student Aid Report (also called a SAR).

The aid report will provide you access - if you qualify - to a Pell grant, and a Stafford or Perkins loan, all based on financial need.

That FAFSA can be a bear to fill out, and mistakes happen. Or, if you filled it out last year and didn't get any aid, you may think you don't need to fill it out. I have a reminder for you in case you feel this way.

Students regularly feel the way you do "I didn't qualify last year, so forget the FAFSA," but maybe things have changed in your life that would make you eligible? Here I have the short list for eligibility without your parents on the form.

Are you a dependent?
Your birthday is the first possibility. If you turned 22 last year, then you can apply on your own, no parents. Next, if you recently married, even if you now find yourself separated, you can apply alone (or with your spouse) and find money for college. Have you joined the military and completed your initial training? Usually this qualifies as independent and will produce financial aid.

A couple of more obscure ones also qualify you: If you are a ward of the state, were in foster care until you turned 18, or adopted after 16 in some cases.

An idea to think about: If you can't find enough money for college with money from home and from student aid, look at the school you attend. Are we talking about a very expensive school? That may be part of the problem. Consider a less expensive one, especially if you attend as an out of state student at a state school.

A couple of other obstacles to watch for: have you gone through a divorce recently? This may not be a problem if you are over 22. If under, then you have to look at alimony. If your spouse supports you with substantial payments, you may still not qualify as independent - but on the bright side, you may have plenty of money to get you through your 22nd birthday, and then you can apply on your own.

Likewise for military members in training. Until you complete training, you probably don't qualify.

In any case, if you find you qualify for money for college, you will need to know how much you need. Seriously, you don't want to take all the aid you qualify for unless you need it or it is free. Grants, scholarships, handouts, okay. Gifts, even better. But loans can do you in.

In the case of loans, college money can sink you. If you go to an expensive school, or you major in a low paid field, you may find that the degree doesn't pay the bills. So be careful with loans. You can borrow up to $20,000 in the Stafford program, and another $20,000 in the Grad PLUS program. If you go private, the sky is the limit.

Don't do it. You don't need a new car during school. Get a used one, or learn the bus system - you'll be glad you did later, when the bill comes due. Share an apartment or live at home. And worst of all, stay away from credit cards. They have got to be the worst student loan you can get.

Want a luxury that will serve you well in the future? Take a semester abroad or at sea. You'll see the world before you have the responsibilities that prevent that kind of travel. Or get your graduate degree from a school in Europe. That kind of experience you'll remember for the rest of your life. I rarely find anyone who regrets they found money for a semester of college abroad.

I had the chance to travel in Europe as a high school student, and in Mexico and Ecuador during my college years. The memories are priceless and add perspective every time I think of them.

Be sure to know your options, and spend the college money you find well.
About the Author
Need more info? Come to The Money For College Now Blog and download a free ebook on financial aid.
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