Financial Aid 101: How to Get College Scholarships & Grants
If you’re like most students, you’ll need some help paying for your college degree, so you don’t want to miss any opportunities to find grants and scholarships. After all, it’s usually free money and you won’t have to pay it back. Even if you’re already receiving federal financial aid, there are plenty of scholarships and grants out there to secure. The trick is knowing where to look and getting started early.
How much does college cost?
Students are now graduating with an average of $37,172 in student loan debt, which has risen 6% in one year. Sallie Mae found that almost all families know that their children want to attend college, but only 39% have created a plan to pay for it.
Depending on the type of school you choose and the state you live in, you could be paying anywhere from $11,580 to $45,370 per year, on average, according to The College Board. To find out how much your school may cost, check out the College Affordability and Transparency Center’s online resources.
Financial Aid Through Grants & Scholarships 101
Applying for financial aid can take time, but it’s worth it to help bring down the hefty price tag of a college education. According to Sallie Mae’s report, 35% of college costs are covered by scholarships and grants. The College Board also found that undergraduates received more than $14,000 in financial aid, on average.
Typically, grants are awarded based on financial need, and scholarships are awarded based on merit. Both grants and scholarships can be found from the federal government, state governments, colleges and private companies or non-profit organizations. Since 2007, MECU has provided more than 100 scholarships totaling more than $110,000 to students pursuing higher education.
Fill out the FASFA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid)
One of the most critical steps for receiving federal financial aid is to fill out your Free Application for Financial Student Aid (FAFSA). This application helps the government determine how much financial aid you can get, but many state and private organizations also use it to understand your financial situation and award student financial aid.
You’ll want to complete your FAFSA on January 1 of the year that you’re entering college and do so again every year you’re in college. Some federal aid programs operate on a first-come, first-served basis, so filing the application early gives you the best chance of receiving the most favorable financial aid package each year. Note that the deadlines for federal and state aid vary. To find out the FAFSA deadline for Maryland, use their online tool.
Check out the University Financial Aid Office
Another great resource to help find scholarships and grants is directly with the specific colleges and universities that you are interested in attending. Almost all schools have financial aid offices to help you understand your available options. Start by scheduling an appointment with a financial aid counselor to learn about the types of grants and scholarships available to you.
Find Grants & Scholarships
There are so many types of scholarships available based on various factors - geography, GPA, sports teams or clubs, a response to an essay question, origin or nationality, intended major, military affiliation, gender and so much more. Look within your local community, especially with any organizations that you or your family belong to, like your employer, high school, religious organization, community groups and even campus organization. MECU has partnered with CollegeBound Foundation to award 10 annual $1,000 “Merit and Service” Scholarships to Baltimore high school seniors who achieve high academic performance or demonstrate a commitment to community service.
Several online resources allow you to search for scholarships or grants that may be a good fit, too:
- The U.S. Department of Education offers information on finding federal grants and Maryland agency information.
- U.S Department of Labor’s Scholarship Search allows you to look for scholarships and filter by award amount, deadline, award type, Maryland, and more.
- The Student Grants for College from Maryland.
College is expensive, and costs continue to rise. Stay at the head of the class by spending the time early on to find as many scholarships and grants that can help you defray your overall education costs. To help with the rest, contact us at MECU for student loan planning.