High school graduation is quickly approaching, and for many students, dreams of earning their college education and finding secure, stable, and well-paying jobs will follow.
While this may be the American dream, it does not always come easily. There are many challenges involved with paying for college, and it is up to the student and his or her parents to find ways to overcome these issues.
So, what are the main challenges in obtaining the right education?
- Identifying the student’s needs and resources – This includes determining how much the student or student’s family is able to contribute to the student’s educational cost, determining what school a student should attend, and assessing what costs will be associated with the student’s education, such as tuition, room, board, food, books, and gas.
- Locating Government Aid – The U.S. government provides students with a number of resources, such as grants and student loans. Finding them and learning how to apply is essential for reducing the cost of a student’s college education.
- Finding Scholarships and Grants – Students can also reduce the cost required for their education by locating scholarships and grants available from public and private sources. Many of these forms of assistance will pay for most, if not all, of the student’s educational expenses.
Community College vs. University
When planning your college education, the decision of whether to attend a community college or public university can be difficult. After all, you want the best education possible, but you don’t want the price tag to be incredibly large.
In reality, both a university and a community college can provide you with a great education.
There are just a few differences you should be aware of.
- Cost – According to the American Association of Community Colleges, the average year cost of an education at a community college is $2,713, while the average year cost for four-year public universities is $7,605. This is almost a $5,000 difference, proving that students attending community college can great reduce the cost of their education. Even those who attend a community college for two years and transfer to a university for the last two years of their education can save almost $10,000 on average.
- Social Life – For most students, education comes first, but having a social life and “the college experience” comes in at a close second. If interacting with other students important to you, a university will offer you more. Community colleges are generally filled with individuals from all walks of life, and as soon as class is over, these individuals go back to their own lives. Universities offer you the ability to eat, breathe, live, and date on campus.
- Flexibility – If you are looking at your college education as a full-time job, a university is for you. While many offer summer and evening courses, most classes are set on a strict schedule. Community college are more flexible, providing classes at night, on weekends, and in large blocks.
Taking Full Advantage of FAFSA
Finding the financial aid you need to go to college begins with filling out the FAFSA. FAFSA stands for ‘Free Application for Federal Student Aid,’ but it is so much more.
Even if you don’t think you will qualify for financial assistance from the government, you should still go online and fill out this application, because it is also used by many public and private organizations to distribute scholarships and grants to students in need.
To take full advantage of the FAFSA and obtain the help you need, make sure to fill out your application as soon as possible. The federal deadline for online applications is June 30, 2012 for the 2012-2013 school year, but grants available through your state and college may have different, and earlier, deadlines.
If you want to ensure you are getting the most assistance possible, fill your FAFSA out as early as you can.
Mature Student Grants
The traditional college student is between the ages of 18 to 24, indicating they began college right out of high school. More and more students are earning their education later in life however, and are known as non-traditional students.
Grants and scholarships are available for these mature students, just as they are available for traditional students.
Here are just a few places you can find grants and scholarships if you are over the age of 25.
- Jeannette Rankin Women’s Scholarship Fund - This fund has been awarding scholarships to mature women since 1978. Women must be 35 years old or over, be enrolled in an accredited college, and meet the foundation’s low income guidelines.
- FAFSA - The majority of a non-traditional student’s financial aid will most likely come from the government, rather than private scholarships, so it is essential you fill out a FAFSA if you over the age of 25. Also, as stated above, many non-federal grants and scholarships will require a FAFSA to be filled out before you can qualify.
- Scholarship and Grant Websites – Visit websites like scholarships.com and fastweb.com to learn about the many different scholarships available. Pay attention to the requirements on each grant and scholarship. Remember, just because the scholarship or grant doesn’t say it is for a non-traditional student doesn’t mean you can’t apply for it. Just make sure the requirements don’t mention anything about age.
Paying for college may not be the easiest thing in the world, but it doesn’t have to be the hardest. Determine where you want to attend school, what your resources are, and begin searching for grants and scholarships that will help you afford your education.