What’s So Great About Grants and Scholarships?

College Funds. Many students don’t think about financially planning for their education before they graduate from high school. Unless they’ve been managing their own money and working, students don’t know how much it costs to live—much less, the cost of a college education. This doesn’t include the cost of owning and operating a car, filling it with gas at current prices or paying to have it maintained. In today’s current market, a college education can cost as much as it does to purchase a home. When it comes to planning a college education, consider searching for grant and scholarship opportunities to help defray these costs.

The National Center for Education Statistics reports that, as of the 2009-2010 school year, a four-year undergraduate education will average $128,736 if you attend a private college and $51,216 if you attend a public college. While some colleges may offer lower tuition rates, don’t forget to include the cost of rent, food, clothing, books, and more. That’s a lot of money to spend on an education, and doesn’t include the extra money needed if you plan to obtain a graduate degree.

Most students end up having to get a student loan to afford a college education, but they don’t think about the long term effects of such a loan. Student loan rates vary as well. Some start out at 3.4 percent, but most average 6.8 percent, and some are as high as 7.9 percent. Most student loans take a minimum of 10 years to repay. With the current economy, many college students are finding themselves with a hefty loan payment and a lack of good job openings. For a student who has borrowed $50,000 in student loans (with a 6.8 percent interest rate), an estimated minimum yearly salary of over $70,000 would be required to sufficiently pay off the debt. Most four-year college graduates cannot expect to make that kind of money from their first job.

To bring down the cost of your education, research all grant and scholarship opportunities out there. Grants and scholarships don’t have to be repaid, but many of them do have specific eligibility requirements that have to be met. For instance, the Pell Grant requires students to submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid and meet specific income requirements. The U.S. Department of Education makes a decision on student financial aid based on a formula that includes your income and assets if you are independent from your parents, or includes the income and assets of your parents if you are dependent upon your parents for financial help. You must meet their filing deadlines and include income tax returns, and more, to qualify.

Many corporations, private charitable foundations, and associations often offer scholarships or grants to students of members or employees. Many organizations geared toward specific disciplines also offer grants or scholarships to qualifying students. Scholarships and grants can help ease the burden of the hefty cost of a college education. Colleges usually have a financial aid department that can also direct the student toward grants and scholarships, as well as provide help in calculating financial needs to complete a college education. States may also provide student aid information.

Some students also work while attending college to help defray these costs. But that can be a heavy load to bear, especially when you have to pay for rent, food, transportation, clothing, and more. While many high school graduates can’t wait to “get out on their own,” consider living at home while going to school to help ease the burden of room, board, and living expenses. Other options include attending a junior college for the general education core requirements; as long as you have verified that coursework will transfer over to a public or private college of your choice for the remaining two years.

Living in a dormitory on campus and eating at the college cafeteria may not sound all that glamorous, but if you are set on getting a college education, this is another way that you can help save on room and board costs. Many colleges also offer on-campus employment to help defray expenses for those students that qualify. Nowadays, to get a college education, you need to engage some creative thinking, keep all your options open and consider all the different opportunities available to help pay for that education.

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