So much has changed over the years in regards to attending an institution of higher education. Everything used to be very straightforward but now that is far from fact. The only simple aspect of going for a higher education degree is choosing a major/minor.

Things don't really get complex till it comes to the financial aid process.

Types of Financial Assistance

There are three major forms of financial aid: federal grants, scholarships and loans.

Federal Grants
One of the main and most popular forms of financial aid. Of the federal grants, the Pell is widely distributed but on a first come first serve basis. There are other grants but they are only distributed via participating institutions.

In order to get access to these grants, you must fill out the FAFSA application either online or on paper. The application must be completed and sent in prior to the deadline of your designated area. Award amounts are based on whether or not you're an independent/dependent student.

  • Independent: over the age of 25
  • Dependent: under the age of 25

Federal grants don't need to be re-paid; however, there is a cap in place for distribution of funds.  At the moment, the Pell will only cover up to six (6) academic years of schooling which doesn't include Summer Sessions.

Scholarships
Another type of aid that doesn't need to be re-paid unless you earn one from a provider that has specific requirements. Scholarships are easy to find but not as easy to obtain. One of the best things you can do is look every and anywhere.

Yes scholarship sites are a good start; however, chances are high that the options will be swamped with entries. Scholarship Points tops the list of scholarship sites that have a high number of participants that enter every single sponsored scholarship on the site. Their 10K drawing is probably one of the biggest that occurs four (4) times a years.

Loans
Both private and federal loans alike should only be taken out as a last resort. Last resort as in when all other means of funding are exhausted. Once those means are exhausted then you can go the loan route, but ONLY take out what you need.

Don't go crazy and take out a whole bunch (especially at once). Take out what you need and what you know you can pay back with little to no issue once your schooling is complete; some loans have a grace period of six (6) months.

Also, if you're in a position to pay on your loans while in school, please do so. That way, after the grace period, the amount due won't be as mind blowing.

The Ultimate Scholarship Book 2015: Billions of Dollars in Scholarships, Grants and Prizes
Amazon Price: $26.95 $26.02 Buy Now
(price as of Sep 15, 2015)
This is an informative book to have on hand. You don't even have to get the current year but it does help to have a copy of your own so that you can make notes and stick post-it notes on key pages of interest.

With my personal copy, I spent two hours shift through the book jotting down potential opportunities for pay on my college bill. There is never a shortage of opportunities but it does help to have a calendar to jot down deadlines so that you don't miss out on any opportunities; a good deal of them fall late in the school year.

The authors of this guide compilation are living proof, so to speak, that it is possible to pay for college without having to take out a boat load loans. Gen and Kelly Tanabe both went to ivy colleges and footed the bill with scholarships they earned over the years.

Additional/Alternative Funding Assistance

This may sound like dream world here but there are opportunities to sign up for contests that grant cash rewards in addition to useful prizes. Of course, if not already, working a part-time or full-time position can help offset college costs; hopefully to the point where you won't have to take out loans to cover outstanding costs. Work-study opportunities are also available where you can work on/off campus during downtime from courses.

There are also online work opportunities that include but aren't limited to: teaching an online course, creating online tutorial videos, course work assistance, freelance writing, illustration (digital and traditional), photography, design and coding.

 

For International Students

There are many international students that look forward to attending American institutions for higher education. Financial aid, in regards to international students, can be tricky. However; there are institutions that have funding programs in place to help these students offset the cost of attending.

As stated above, try to refrain from taking out loans if at all possible. If the institution you are attending offers work-study opportunities, please sign up for it. The work schedule is setup around your class schedule plus you can work on campus.

Also, don't hesitate to inquire about local employment opportunities outside of school during your attendance.  Working while in school can help offset expenses associated with attending as well as living on/off campus.