What is Financial Aid?
Financial aid is money awarded to a student to help pay educational costs such as tuition, fees, books, and room and board. The federal government, state governments, colleges, and private organizations provide financial aid to eligible students in the form of scholarships (also called grants), loans, and employment (work study or on campus jobs). Scholarships are great because, unlike loans, they do not have to be paid back.
You might use a combination of different categories of aid to meet the cost of your education. When you apply for financial aid and then are admitted to a college, you will receive an award letter, listing programs of aid and the amounts you are offered. This is called a financial aid package. If you are applying for several schools, each school might offer different amounts.
Can I Get Scholarships with a GED?
GED graduates are often eligible for the same scholarships as public or private high school graduates. In addition, there are non-traditional/adult student scholarships just for the GED graduate. If you found a scholarship, but the eligibility requirements don’t specifically say anything about GED graduates, contact the sponsor organization directly to ask about it.
Be careful not to call the wrong person. People who work at colleges and government agencies don’t always know detailed policies about external scholarships and often give the wrong advice, even though they are just trying to help. So, make sure to use the contact information on the application form.
Where Do I Find Scholarships?
The Federal Government
The Federal Government provides the easiest to obtain aid in the form of need-based scholarships and loans, such as Pell Grants, Stafford Loans, and Perkins Loans. To check to see if you are eligible, go to http://studentaid.edu.gov.
For most financial aid programs, you are required to submit an application through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). You should apply as soon as possible even if you haven’t applied to any schools yet. You can learn more about FAFSA at http://www.smartscholar.com/fafsa-guide/
Most states offer several need-based, as well as merit-based scholarships, to their residents. These programs are usually well funded, allowing states to assist tens of thousands of students each year.
However, even with large funding, not all eligible students can be served, so states use various methods to stay within their budget, such as implementing first-come-first-served policies or by giving priority to people who meet certain criteria. To see how your state awards scholarships, check out the Local Information section.
Scholarships from your college are great because, after your first year, it doesn’t matter as a scholarship eligibility criteria whether you earned a GED or a high school diploma. Then you can apply for scholarships for current students or find an on-campus job awarded based on your GPA or other factors.
Contact the scholarship office and the department office of your intended major to find out about scholarship opportunities and how receiving a scholarship might affect your overall financial aid.
How Can I Avoid or Minimize Student Loan Debt?
Even for the fortunate ones who receive multiple scholarships, it may be necessary to take out student loans to cover the entire cost of their education.
Carefully Consider the Cost of Tuition
These are the national averages for yearly tuition in 2013-14:
Public 2 year college: $3,264
Public 4 year college in-state: $8,893
Public 4 year college out-of-state: $33,203
Private Nonprofit 4 year colleges: $30,094
Remember that these are just averages. It’s not unusual to see tuition for one state university be only half as expensive as another one. So, check out if you can get a bargain on tuition. Also, take living expenses into consideration.
CLEP Can Save You Thousands of Dollars In Tuition
The College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) offers 33 exams in five subject areas, covering material taught in courses you generally take in your first two years of college. By passing a CLEP exam, you can earn 3 to 12 college credits. The exam costs $80 and the program is available at more than 2,900 colleges and universities. Each school has different policies so if you are planning to transfer from a 2 year school to a 4 year school, check if the 4 year school accepts CLEP credits. A CLEP official study guide can be purchased at any major bookstores.
Don’t Lose Credits If You Transfer
Most community college students lose some credits when transferring to a 4 year school. Remedial classes never count towards a college degree, but you may also not get credit for some elective classes that are not offered at your new school. You can minimize the credit loss by checking the graduation requirements of your desired university when you are starting out at a community college.
Check if your community college offers a Direct Transfer Agreement (DTA) Associate’s Degree which will give you a junior standing at your new school.
Consider Scholarships Through Your Employer or AmeriCorps
If you don’t mind working for a year or two before starting college, you have quite a few options to have your employer pay for your education. Colleges and government agencies are most generous with tuition assistance for their employees but some private companies have good programs too.
AmeriCorps is a federal volunteering program which offers scholarships at the end of a year’s service.
Consider the Pros and Cons of Working While Attending College
Going to school part-time is a common solution as well. However, many experts believe that working while in school is the greatest reason why students drop out of college. Since student loans will stay with you even if you drop out, be careful and try not to work more than is absolutely necessary and finish college on time.
Tips for Applying for Scholarships
Are you ready to win some scholarships? Here are some tips to increase your chances.
Contact the Organization Before Applying for a Scholarship.
Many scholarships are funded year by year and the information on the website may not be current. Ask any questions you have about eligibility, required documents, etc. Don’t assume. Incomplete application forms or missing documents may cost you a scholarship.
When you find scholarships you are interested, get organized. Make a spreadsheet and keep track of different scholarships, dates, and documents.
Don’t wait until the deadline. Apply early before funding runs out.
Update Your Personal Information
If you or a family member experiences a major life change such as job loss, illness, separation, etc., contact your college’s financial aid office. You might qualify for more aid.
After Your Financial Aid Is Awarded
Last but not least, stay organized even after you are awarded a scholarship or a loan. Financial aid can sometimes be delayed or even fail to go through. When there is a problem, take charge and do everything you can to fix it as soon as possible. Don’t hesitate to contact the source of your financial aid. It’s your responsibility to get the money into your account.