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5 Ways To Get College Financial Aid

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This week my local library conducted a free seminar on college financial aid.  The seminar was presented by a financial aid specialist from our community college.  They expected about 20 people, but 50 showed up.  I was fortunate to be one of those that arrived early enough to be able to get a seat.  It appears that the tough economy has made federal financial aid more popular than ever.

There is still a widespread myth that in order to qualify for financial aid, you must be in poverty or be a high academic achiever.  It is true that there are programs that screen by financial need and academic achievement, but there are billions of dollars that are not tied to either of these.  Good grades, high scores on the SAT and ACT, and community service will all work to your advantage when applying for college financial aid.  Even if you don’t have an ideal academic resume’, you will still be able to get money for college.

The starting point of determining what you may be eligible for is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).  It is very hard to generalize about student aid as there are so many variables that are taken into account.  Therefore, the best way to find out what you are eligible to receive is to complete the FAFSA.


1. Federal Pell Grant

Receive up to $4,300 (annually) and does not have to be repaid, since it is a grant and not a loan.  This is a needs-based program for undergraduate students.  Eligibility is based on a large number of factors that are all taken into account when you complete the FAFSA. Pell Grant

2.  Federal Perkins Loan

Low interest rate loans based on financial need.  Average annual award amount ranges from $4,000 to $6,000 for undergraduate and up to $6,000 per year for graduate students.  Federal Perkins Loan

3.  Stafford Loan

There are two forms of the Stafford Loan.  One form of the Stafford is based on need, the other is not.  On a subsidized loan, you are not required to pay interest on the loan while you are in school.  Interest on subsidized loans are paid by the government.  Stafford loan amounts vary, but can be as much $20,000 in a given year.  Stafford Loan

4.  Scholarships

The largest free scholarship database is FastWeb, which has 1.5 million scholarships worth 3.4 billion dollars.  This is an area of great confusion and probably represents the single most missed opportunity for college money.  While there are many scholarships that are based on academic achievement and need, there are many that are not.  There are numerous unique and little known scholarships.  For example, David Letterman has three scholarships totaling $18,000 per year for communications student attending his alma mater Ball State University.  Jerry Seinfeld, Oprah Winfrey, and a host of other celebrities offer scholarships each year.  There are also some unusual scholarships, such as money set aside for left handed students, students that are short (4’ 10” or under), tall (6’ 2” or taller), fat (no level of fatness given, but you must write an essay on fat activism), and even for twins.  Don’t rule out that there is scholarship money for you.  One of the more unusual scholarships I found was for individuals who have last name at birth of Zolp.  It probably goes without saying that there are still scholarships for star athletes and high academic achievers. 

5.  State Scholarships    

Most states have scholarship money.  In Florida, we have a very popular program called Bright Futures which will pay up to 100% of college tuition.  Probably the easiest way to get the details on college money associated with your individual state is to inquire at the college you plan on attending.  State by state listing of available scholarships.

Other Links On College Financial Aid

10 Things Your College Financial Aid Officer Won’t Tell You

Federal Student Aid

College Financial Aid System In Crisis


Don’t let the economy stop you from applying for federal aid.  There is still plenty of money available and it appears that even more money is on the way from the financial stimulus plan that is expected to be signed into law soon.  College is not just for those coming out of high school.  More and more adults are going back to college as well.  Now may be a great time to consider going back to school to update your credentials.  Expert say that the three areas that offer the most job security are health care, education, and technology.

Please help!  Do you know something about college financial aid or do you have a success story?  Use the comment section below to add to this blog.

Helping you make the most of God’s money!

James L. Paris
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