So you’ve decided to apply to a degree or training program—congratulations on making the commitment to improving your long-term career and financial stability! One of the next steps to take after applying for the program is to seek out financial aid opportunities.
Some forms of financial aid are given for free based on demonstrated need and academic achievement, while others act as loans that will allow you to defer repayment until after you graduate and (hopefully) have a better-paying job.
Here are three places to look for help in paying for school:
Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
Each year, the U.S. Department of Education provides more than $150 billion in federal grants, loans and work-study funds to individuals paying for college or career school. To find out what you qualify for, you’ll need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
Financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, so you’ll want to get your application in as close to January 1 (when filing opens) as possible. Additionally, the FAFSA requires you to gather quite a bit of information, so you’ll want to start collecting your documents and details early. Read more about who is eligible and the materials you’ll be requested to provide.
You can also use the free FAFSA4caster to estimate how much financial aid you’ll be eligible for.
College and University Scholarships
Most likely, the college or university to which you’re applying offers some form of financial aid in the form of scholarships. After visiting the school’s website, do a search for the term “financial aid” to locate that section of the site and see what may be available to you. Often, these scholarships will require you to meet certain demographic criteria related to degree program, race, gender, income level and more.
Not sure what scholarships for which you qualify? Every school has a financial aid team that’s there to help you understand your options and answer questions. Consider giving them a call to talk through your options.
External Scholarships and Funding
There are also a number of external scholarships and related funding opportunities that you may qualify for. Consider creating a free account on FastWeb to search for money that may be a good fit for you based on your interest areas and personal characteristics. Often, these scholarships require submitting a separate application form and writing a short essay explaining why you’re a good fit for the funding. Still, a little time invested up front could mean the difference between receiving a few thousand dollars in funding or having to pay for it out of pocket.