Tips on Scholarships and Financial Aid for College

Sep 22, 2017

Scholarships and Financial Aid

It’s no secret that the average costs of college have more than doubled in the past twenty years and that they continue to rise. What fewer college-bound students and their parents are aware of is just how vast the opportunities are for scholarships, grants, loans and other forms of financial aid, all of which can go a long way toward lessening the financial strain of college on families. Don’t want to leave money on the table for something as important as higher education? Check out these tips for tapping into the billions of dollars’ worth of college funds available:

Don’t delay in applying for federal funds: The U.S. Department of Education is a major source of financial assistance for most college students – awarding more than $120 billion per year in grants, scholarships, work-study funds and loans. Federal student aid covers a wide range of expenses such as tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, transportation, and certain other college-related expenses. Applying for federal student aid is also an important first step that must be completed before students can apply for financial assistance from the state of California.

A 2015 study by NerdWallet revealed that $2.9 billion in federal grant money went unclaimed in 2014. To make sure you’re not losing out, be sure to complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) at www.fafsa.org (available beginning October 1). You can also get an early estimate of your eligibility by accessing the FAFSA4caster calculator at http://bit.ly/FAFSA4casterCalculatorforFederalAid. Also, as The Simple Dollar explains, even those who aren’t eligible for need-based federal aid can benefit from filing a FAFSA because it will help provide them with access to unsubsidized federal loans, which are not need based. In addition, many colleges and universities also require completion of the FAFSA form to determine eligibility for their non-federal financial aid programs.

Look into state assistance: Also be aware that even if you don’t qualify for federal financial aid, you may still be eligible for financial assistance from your state. And with some of the most well-funded programs for postsecondary education (including both colleges and universities as well as vocation or trade schools), it’s worth exploring what California state assistance might be able to offer you. The most common form of financial aid from the state is the Cal Grant program, which is open to all California applicants. To be considered for a 2018-2019 Cal Grant award, you have until March 1 to complete a FAFSA or California Dream Application (CADAA) and ensure that your certified Grade Point Average (GPA) was submitted to the California Student Aid Commission.

If you’re the dependent or spouse of a peace officer (or a member of certain other groups) killed or totally disabled in the line of duty, you may be eligible for need-based educational grants from the Law Enforcement Personnel Dependents Grant Program (LEPD). These grant awards match the amount of a Cal Grant, ranging from $100 to $12,192 for four years. To learn more, visit http://bit.ly/AboutLEPD.

Find out what the schools themselves have to offer: With funds available from sources such as private endowments and gifts from alumni, many colleges and universities offer financial aid in the form of both merit-based scholarships and need-based grants. In addition, certain departments may provide scholarships for students in a specific major. To find information on financial aid at a specific school, check the school’s website or financial aid office.

Research private sources of funding: Although they don’t represent a huge proportion of the total amount of money awarded to U.S. students for college costs, it’s worth noting that approximately $3.3 billion in college grants and scholarships comes from individuals, foundations, nonprofits, corporations, veterans groups, professional associations, churches and other groups every year. What’s more, these types of awards are often merit based, which means that even students from affluent backgrounds can benefit from them.

Fortunately, there are also a number of online search tools that make it easy to identify and apply for a wide range of outside scholarships and grants. For example, Unigo provides a comprehensive directory of scholarships and enables you to search by category, from company contests to heritage-based awards, and much more. The service even has its own scholarships, contests and sweepstakes. Other good search sites to try include FastWeb ,Scholarship Search and the U.S. Department of Labor’s own online tool at http://bit.ly/DOLScholarshipFinder.

Another plus that private funding sources offer: students can often apply to as many of these opportunities as is feasible. However, you should be aware whether any money you’re awarded might possibly affect your total financial aid package. For an overview of this topic, visit the CollegeBoard at http://bit.ly/HowOutsideScholarshipsImpactFinancialAid.

And if you’re ready to start exploring private scholarships right in your area, the timing couldn’t be better! SF Police Credit Union will be sponsoring our annual scholarship competition beginning October 1st.  Every year, we award four $1,000 scholarships to students who demonstrate academic excellence and contribute to the improvement of their community. For details on how to apply for an SFPCU scholarship, check our website beginning October 1st.