With the rising costs of a college education, locating the best financing resources can mean the difference between obtaining your degree or falling short of your goal. The funds are out there if you know where to look. Give yourself plenty of time to research your options and choose those that best fit your needs.
The best place to start is at the financial aid office of the college you plan to attend. They will guide you through the steps of applying for federal aid. Federal funds are available in the form of grants (loans that do not have to be paid back), subsidized loans (loans that do not charge interest while you are attending school), and unsubsidized loans (loans that charge minimal interest from the time the funds are accessed). Federal assistance is based on income and need, and may not provide all the funds you need to cover your college expenses. I have found that many of the Online Colleges do not yet have grant programs available. However, most colleges do offer some scholarship programs. Ask your college if they have any scholarships available and request applications.
Many of the larger banks also have Student Loan programs. These loans usually have lower interest rates, and may or may not require payments while you are attending school. An internet search for “student loans” will provide a vast selection of available banking institutions. Be sure to shop for the best interest rates and payment plans.
If your return to college is job related, be sure to talk to the Human Resources Department at your place of employment. Many times companies offer loan or grant programs to assist employees in furthering their education if it will, in turn, benefit the company.
Scholarships are funds that are given away to students based on a variety of criteria. Qualifications for a particular scholarship can range from area of study, gender, age, or ethnic origin. Many are open to all applicants. The best way to find the scholarships available to you is by joining a scholarship search website available online. Two good sites that I have found are Fastweb.com and Scholarships.com. You will be required to fill out a personal profile that will target specific scholarships available to individuals with your criteria. The website then notifies you each time a possible scholarship opportunity becomes available. Keep in mind that the competition for these funds is tremendous.
Other scholarship opportunities may be found in your community. Local businesses and organizations often offer small scholarships to members of the community who are planning to attend college. Although the majority of these scholarships are reserved for high school seniors who are going on to college, specialty businesses may offer scholarships to students based on a related field of study. Your local Chamber of Commerce can help identify some of the possibilities. Contacting businesses directly can also provide helpful leads. Often local businesses and organizations will consider establishing a scholarship fund if they see a need within the community.
Another possibility for low-interest loans that can be used for college expenses is available to homeowners. If you are a homeowner and have any equity built up, contact your mortgage company about financing a second mortgage. Depending on your credit score, a home equity loan or second mortgage may offer lower interest rates than student loans.
Wherever you search for funds to finance your college education, make sure that you shop and compare. Most graduating college students will be faced with repaying several thousands of dollars. To keep these payments as low as possible, pay what you can out of your pocket and apply for all grants and scholarships available to you. Every dollar of “free money” is a dollar you don’t have to worry about paying back.