Congratulations! After 4 long years of high school, you’re officially college bound.
Getting into college is a huge accomplishment. College shapes you to become the person you aspire to be. Unfortunately, those aspirations come with a price – a very high, intimidating price. The cost of college tuition has skyrocketed and will continue to do so. Lucky for you, there are a few ways you can be relieved of these high prices, such as applying for FAFSA, TAP, scholarships, and opening a 529 plan.
Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
FAFSA is an application used by the federal government to determine how much money should be given to students in the form of grants, loans, and work study programs. The application uses your or your family’s tax information to determine the specific amount of each. This can be filled out each year you are in school. It will not automatically renew each year, so you must remember to fill it out at the beginning of the year to continue receiving federal aid. You can only access it at www.fafsa.ed.gov
As I mentioned, FAFSA gives federal aid in the form of grants, loans, and work-study programs. There are major differences between the three.
Grants: FAFSA awards the Federal Pell Grant to undergraduate students who are pursuing a bachelor’s degree. This amount depends on financial need and is free money, meaning it does not have to be repaid.
Loans: A loan is a sum of money that is borrowed and paid back with interest. FAFSA gives out various loans, but the one I recommend the most is the Direct Subsidized Loan. This type of loan is available to undergraduates, where the U.S. Department of Education pays the interest on the loan while you’re in school at least half-time, for the first six months after you leave school (this is referred to as a grace period), and during a period of deferment (a postponement of loan payments).
Work-Study: Work study programs provide students with part-time jobs to help them pay for school expenses. This is available to full-time or part-time undergraduate, graduate, and professional students with financial need. It is only administered by schools participating in the Federal Work-Study Program. You can find out from your school’s financial aid office if they are participating.
Note: fafsa.ed.gov is the only website where the FAFSA application can be filled out. It is a free resource. Any other website requesting payment for filling out a FAFSA application is a SCAM.
Tuition Assistance Program (TAP)
The Tuition Assistance Program is a part of The Higher Education Services Corporation (HESC) and is another form of federal aid. TAP is a grant that ranges from $500 to $5,000. The specific amount is determined by family income and tax status. Since it is a grant, it does not need to be repaid. Unfortunately, it is only applicable to New York State residents who are attending or going to attend school in New York. To be eligible, you must be a United States citizen and a New York resident. Your tax information is automatically sent to HESC when you fill out the FAFSA application, so you don’t have to worry about filling out two separate forms.
Scholarships are merit-based awards given out by various institutions. There are thousands of different kinds of scholarships out there for anyone. Because of this, it does make it difficult to win one. When applying for scholarships, keep in mind that it is not a guaranteed win.
Remember, it’s you against everyone else who is trying to pay for school and that is a lot of people. However, this shouldn’t stop you from applying because you’ll never know if you don’t try. Some scholarship websites I recommend are fastweb.com and niche.com. For the fall semester, start applying from January to May. For the spring semester, start applying from August to October.
Some colleges even award scholarships to incoming freshman based on their high school GPA. These scholarships will be awarded every year if you maintain your GPA. Check with your school’s financial aid office for more information.
A 529 plan is a savings plan created for setting aside funds for future educational costs. It is tax-deferred and varies by state. This plan will be worth more if an account is opened a few years before you start college. It is authorized by Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code. You can find out more about it on the Securities and Exchange Commission’s website at https://www.sec.gov/reportspubs/investor-publications/investorpubsintro529htm.html
By taking advantage of these resources, you can decrease the stress and burden that comes with paying college tuition and focus on your academic pursuits.