The school you attend will ultimately determine your borrowing needs, so it's important to choose your top college choices early. Once that's out of the way, the hunt for college financial aid should always begin with a search for free money, such as scholarships, grants and institutional aid from the school of your choice. Use the helpful tips below to aid in your search for the right college and financial aid package.
With over 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States, there's never been a greater range of choices for college-bound students. But sometimes a wide selection leads to complication and confusion, so how do you find the right college for you? Fortunately, we have some tips and advice to help you with your decision.
Once you've thought about what you want, take a look around:
Along with family savings, loans, scholarships and grants will almost certainly be the three leading methods for funding your college education. Learn more about the differences between scholarships, grants and loans to determine the right combination for you.
Scholarships are a form of financial aid that do not have to be repaid. Scholarships for college are granted based on a variety of criteria, including academic merit, athletic involvement, extracurricular activities, essays, ethnicity and financial need. You should be able to find scholarships on both a national and local level.
Grants are monetary awards which, like scholarships, do not need to be repaid. Grants are funded by federal and state governments, like the Federal Pell Grant, as well as many schools that have their own money to award. Unlike grants in graduate school, most grants for undergraduate students are need based rather than merit based. Competition will be tough, so apply early and to multiple grant programs to increase your chances of receiving these funds.
Finally, student loans are borrowed funds which you, or your parents or guardians, are obligated to pay back over a certain agreed-upon period, with interest. They can be borrowed either from the federal government or from private sources, like Citizens Bank. Federal student loans, such as the Federal Direct Stafford Loan, do not examine your credit score and as such may offer better rates, but they are also for limited annual amounts, and should be exhausted first because of this. Most students will still need additional funding after maximizing grants, scholarships, and federal student loans — this is where private student loans come in.
As any college financial aid expert will tell you, before looking into student loans, you should first maximize all the free forms of financial aid for college you can find, such as grants and scholarships. But how do your find scholarships and grants that you're eligible for?
Education grants refer to various forms of student financial aid that don't need to be repaid. Some are awarded based on financial need, while others are based on anything from academic merit to a parent's employer or fraternal organization.
Examples of college grants include:
Use Peterson's helpful scholarship search to locate various scholarships that you may be eligible for and check out our tips for writing scholarship essays and more to prepare for the application process. You can also ask your guidance counselor about local scholarships previous students have received that may be a good fit for you. Below are several local organizations that often have scholarships available:
Do your homework before using a scholarship search service. Remember, you should not need to pay for information on scholarships. Check with the Better Business Bureau and your state attorney general if you have any concerns about the legitimacy of a scholarship and keep an eye on helpful watchdog sites like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to identify possible local scholarship scams.
|Helpful Tools & Information|
|Student Loan Glossary||A quick guide to various terms you'll encounter in the student loan process.||Learn more|
|Education Financing Calendar||You'll find important milestones students and parents should keep in mind including deadlines for applying for financial aid for college.||View calendar|