The opportunity to attend college is not limited to those students with wealthy families. Paying for college is an expensive endeavor, but there are several forms of assistance available. If you’re among the first to apply for aid, you’ll have a better chance of receiving grants, scholarships or loans. Seeking the assistance of a high school counselor or contacting the financial aid department at your prospective college will help you know about all the funding opportunities available to you.
Low-income students are eligible for federal grants that don’t have to be repaid. In 2013, qualifying students could receive Pell Grant funds up to $5,730, depending upon financial need and full-time or part-time student status. Pell-eligible students with exceptional financial need also are eligible for the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant. Ranging between $100 and $4,000, these federal funds are awarded by participating colleges. Encourage your parents to file their taxes as soon as possible. Once this is completed, visit www.fafsa.ed.gov to fill out a federal financial aid application. You may find other websites that advertise this service for a fee, but there’s no charge if you visit the federal website.
Some states provide assistance to low-income students. For example, the state of California provides CalGrants based upon citizenship, grade point average and financial need. Similarly, Wisconsin provides a need-based, higher education grant for in-state tuition assistance. If you fill out your FAFSA and indicate colleges of interest, some states automatically will consider you for this funding. Other states may require a separate application. Eligibility varies, so it’s important to speak to a counselor or consult your state website for specific application information.
Perseverance can be key to a successful search for scholarships. Several private foundations provide funding assistance for college students, some designed for low-income students, others based upon talent or race. For example, Quest Bridge provides scholarships for high-achieving students who are low-income and interested in attending one of their partner institutions. Visit questbridge.org for application information. Your high school guidance counselor is a good resource for a complete list. In many cases, once you’ve written one scholarship application, you can use it to apply for others. Be sure to read the guidelines and edit when necessary.
Other Funding Sources
Often, the key to finding funding is in your ability to leverage connections. If you attend a church or hold a part-time job, ask about potential funding available for college. Similarly, community organizations such as Rotary International, Kiwanis or the Jaycees offer financial aid for members or potential members. If you aren’t a member, consider joining. Colleges and universities usually have scholarship opportunities that are tied to specific majors, talents or interests. Some consider financial need as an application requirement. Contact the financial aid office to learn more about options.
Dr. Kelly Meier earned her doctorate from Minnesota State Mankato in Educational Leadership. She is the author and co-author of 12 books and serves as a consultant in K-12 and higher education. Dr. Meier is is a regular contributor for The Equity Network and has worked in education for more than 30 years.