How to Get the Most Financial Aid

December 31, 2011

Through grants and scholarships, students can offset the cost of college by a little or a lot. However, how much money you get entirely depends on you. No one else can apply for scholarships, sign up for work study programs or talk to counselors about your financial aid options. In some cases, you can get a scholarship that will entirely pay for your tuition, but you'll still need some money for living costs, unless you plan on working. There are some ways that you can maximize your financial aid packages so you can pay for everything you need all year 'round while in school, even in the summer months. In most cases, there is a financial aid cap to how much a student can receive per year. Usually this number is around $16,000 depending on the living costs for your state. Any college you plan to attend should have a chart of tuition, living expenses, books and miscellaneous items to help students plan their finances while in school.

Getting Started

If you're in high school still, start with your high school counselor. He will be able to point you in the right direction for several scholarships, filling out forms and giving you an idea of available grants. If you're in college already, you can talk to your college advisor or a financial aid officer. However, you want to make an appointment in both cases, because you'll need to speak with them for several minutes about your options. Ask as many questions as possible about the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), work study programs, available fellowships and any scholarships that are specific to your major or department at your college or potential college. Your advisor should give you tips on maximizing your financial aid as well, such as how most students need to be in school full time to receive the most financial aid.

Getting It Free

There are a lot of options for free money, basically private or federal aid that is given to students going to college. Scholarships are the most popular form of free aid. You can find scholarships from any type of organization and for any type of amount. The best way to find a scholarship is through Collegeboard's Search. You can specify what you need and where you are going to school, as well as the type of award. Grants are the other type of free college money. In most cases, these are federal aid scholarships that you sign up for through FAFSA. The Federal Pell Grant is the most common type of grant. This is a federal assistance grant that awards students with incomes below $20,000, mostly based on parent's income until you're the age of 24. You can also receive Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant (FSEOG), which is for students that have even more financial need than Pell Grant eligible students.

Money for Smarties

Of course, if you make excellent grades and your diligent in your scholarship search, you can get free money elsewhere. However, you have to earn these grants and compete with a list of other students who want to get more aid as well. Here are some ways to get aid:

  • Apple Awards is a scholarship program that helps computer geeks get an education. This award is for high school seniors who like technology and use it in innovative ways. The winners also get a new MacBook Pro, iPod and $2,000.
  • Anita Borg Scholarship is an award specifically for girls created by Google. This is for young females interested in technology. The award is for $10,000 and helps any women entering their senior year of undergraduate student in computer science, computer engineering, or other computer-related field.
  • Red Hat Scholarships award computer science students at universities in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Srilanka. The scholarship is given to individual who create open source software.
  • Microsoft Scholarships also help out computer nerds. Microsoft awards above $500,000 in scholarships each year to undergraduate students.
  • IEEE Computer Society Awards help thousands of college juniors, seniors, and graduate students who are studying in a computer-related field. You can apply and be awarded $4,000 in scholarship aid.

Taking the Plunge

Loans are another way to maximize your financial aid. However, this isn't free money, and you will have to pay it back after college is over. If you want the most money for college, loans are certainly one way to go. You can borrow up to $10,000 a year or more in some cases for school, depending on the cost of your education. It's not uncommon for law school students to end up owing over $60,000. You can get a Perkins Loan, Stafford Loan, Federal Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students (PLUS) loan or even private student loans given by your bank or other financial institution. Student loan programs have specific rules about when you have to pay back the money. You can delay paying back money for many years if you stay in school. You can also get deferments based on your unemployment status or if you are experiencing financial hardship.

Other Ways to Get the Most Financial Aid

You can sign up for a federal work-study program. This is a program that gives jobs to undergraduate and graduate students with financial need, allowing them to earn money and pay for education-related expenses. This is a good option for any student who doesn't currently have a job who wants to earn more money towards their tuition. Military service is another way to get education grants and other types of financial aid money. The United States Armed Forces has several programs which pay 100 percent tuition assistance for college courses that are taken during off duty hours. You can look at the TA Program Overview for more information. You can also earn up to $50,000 for college from the Montgomery GI Bill or the Army or Navy College Fund.

Tuition payment plans can help you manage your financial aid money better and provide for education and living expenses over a period of time, instead of paying it all up front. This is a good option for anyone who will continuously be receiving aid or is also working while going to school. You want to make sure that you keep track of how much you're spending with this program, however. You don't want to run out of money by the end of the semester.

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