Affording a College Education

As a veteran or an active duty service member, you’re probably well aware of the fact that you have access to exclusive benefits that can help you pay for your education. Programs like Tuition Assistance and the Post-9/11 GI Bill both pay money toward the cost of tuition and fees for college.  

But these programs both have their limitations. (Not to mention the fact that the Tuition Assistance program has yet to officially begin after being put on hiatus during sequestration.) So, looking to get college tuition help often goes beyond what you’re afforded by your military benefits. 

Whether you’re looking to expand your own personal growth through continuing education, or you want to save up for your children’s tuition, there are tons of helpful resources that might help you overcome the high costs of college.

Grants
Grants are a set amount of money gifted to a college student based on their family’s total income, gender, racial background, career path or academic needs. Grants are a good financial aid opportunity because they’re simple to apply for and don’t require any repayment.

  • The process of receiving grants begins with filling out your (or your child’s) FAFSA. The FAFSA, or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is a very simple online process. The completion of this form will guide you toward grants for which you’re eligible.
  • The most common grant received by students is the Pell Grant. The Pell Grant is a federally funded grant based solely on genuine financial need. You’re qualified to apply again each school year as long as you maintain a minimum 2.0 GPA. The highest amount a student can receive is $5,350 per year.
  • There are hundreds of additional federal and state grants, specific to subject, academic excellence, gender, military background and ethnicity. Websites like CollegeGrants.org and CollegeGrant.net are helpful tools in assisting students in search of grants for which they may be eligible.
  • Note: FAFSA does have different deadlines (based on location and school) for applying each year. It’ll benefit you to know these deadlines and complete your form early in the year!
Scholarships
It seems as though scholarships are the financial aid opportunity most commonly overlooked. Much like grants, they’re simple and don’t require repayment. The major differences between grants and scholarships are that your financial situation isn’t considered nearly as much as other factors, and the money is granted to you by a business or organization along with the federal or state government.

There may be opportunities to receive scholarships directly from local high schools, community colleges, universities, places of worship or family businesses. There are also organizations solely dedicated to awarding scholarships and a surprisingly large number of corporations that offer various scholarships throughout the year. In addition to the list of things considered when awarding grants, scholarships can depend on your GPA, standardized test scores, location, career plan, extracurricular activities and athletic achievements.

There are also scholarships awarded for reasons many would consider unusual. There are scholarships for tall people, for those who have a knack for duck calling, and for creating a prom dress out of duct tape. Check out many of these scholarships here.

Because there are so many different scholarships, there isn’t a set criterion or process for all of them. However, there’s a general set of things most scholarships will have in common:

  • Every scholarship will have some kind of deadline to apply. These deadlines fall at all different times throughout the year.
  • Most scholarships will either have an age limit, or be limited to citizens of a certain country or region. Some will only require that you plan to attend school.
  • There’s usually no application fee associated with scholarships.
  • Most commonly, you’ll be asked to fill out a form and answer a prompt in a short essay format.
  • Other scholarships are as simple as submitting your name and email address, while some require you to create a large project exhibiting the traits or skills they’re looking for. Generally, the more extensive projects offer a larger monetary prize.
  • Scholarships range from a single check for $50 to a yearly payment of $30,000!
You can find hundreds of scholarship opportunities that fit you with a quick search on the Internet. Be sure to not give personal information out to websites that you don’t trust.

Work-Study
The Federal Work System (FWS) was created by the federal government as an additional way to assist low income individuals to reach their academic goals.

  • More than 3,400 educational institutions are currently involved with the program.
  • Work-study programs offer part-time work to students, which are tailored around each individual’s class schedule.
  • The program promotes community service, working on campus and work specializing in the student’s field of study.
Contact your school or the school you’re interested in to apply for the FWS program and learn more about the opportunities.

Student Loans
Most students have a financial goal when attending college – to avoid graduating with an overwhelming amount debt. However, if you complete the processes above and need extra assistance, loans aren’t a bad option!

  • Statistics show college graduates earn much more in their lifetime than those with a high school diploma alone. Consider student loans an investment in your future.
  • Meet with a counselor or financial aid expert at your potential college and discuss specific loan options. It’s best to complete your financial aid directly through your school to avoid any confusion.
  • Generally, interest doesn’t accrue while you’re still attending school, and you aren’t expected to pay back any loans until you have your degree.
  • You can also receive private student loans, though the details on these loans differ depending on the specific loan and are considered to be more expensive overall.
Many of these resources are simple to research and apply for. Completing a few forms could lead you to saving thousands of dollars in the future, and could allow you to attend your dream school. Before looking at tuition costs and surrendering to a situation you’re unhappy with, explore these financial aid options! Visit StudentAid.ed.gov/ for more information and assistance.

Make sure to be very careful when applying for loans, grants and scholarships. Do your research and ask your financial advisor about different sources of aid to ensure you won’t get ripped off.
 
GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government Web site at www.benefits.va.gov/gibill
© 2016 Military Advantage