College costs are soaring, and students (and their parents) need help paying those tuition bills now more than ever. These days, every little bit helps, so you can't afford to overlook any possible source of money to help pay for school. Here are some options you may have missed.
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- Uncle Sam
In many ways, government grants are the best form of aid because, unlike loans, you don't have to pay them back - and you really don't need to exert much effort to get them, as long as your family income is below a certain level. The primary government programs are the federal Pell grant and individual state grant programs. There are also some grant programs for specific majors.
The main thing you need to do to get this money is to complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), along with any forms required by your state. And pay careful attention to deadlines: if you submit the forms too late, you may be out of luck.
We've all heard about those quirky scholarships, such as the one for left-handed students (it's a $1,000-$1,500 scholarship from Juniata College in Pennsylvania, by the way), but there are lots of other, less exotic sources of scholarships. Students should start with their religious organizations, the student's/parent's employer and any organizations connected to the student's ethnic heritage.
For help in locating scholarships, use an online database such as the one on eLearners.com, which allows you to search based on a variety of criteria. (For more, see Students: There May Be A Tailor-Made Scholarship Out There For You.)
- Rewards Programs
One of the easiest ways to earn money for college is by earning rewards for things you would buy anyway. Upromise is a rewards program run by Sallie Mae. Users simply register for free and designate the student beneficiary. Then a portion of each dollar spent at any of the partner retailers is deposited into an account for that student. There's also an Upromise MasterCard that earns rewards on every purchase. Rewards can then transferred into a 529 account, a high-yield savings account or used to pay off student expenses.
You may have already gotten an award letter from your school's financial aid office, but that doesn't mean you've exhausted that source of help.
Kristen Campbell, director of college prep programs for Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions, offers this advice: "Don't be afraid to ask for a re-evaluation. By the time a school accepts you as a student, it sees you as a worthwhile investment on its part, so it will usually want to help you figure out financing. If applicable, send copies of award letters from other schools for comparison. One of the last things a school wants to have happen is to lose fantastic students to a competing school."
- Volunteer Service
Carol Stewart of LookingforScholarships.com says many people aren't yet aware of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, which was passed last year.
"The Act - managed by AmeriCorps - encourages students, parents and grandparents to volunteer in exchange for vouchers that can be used toward higher education," Stewart says, adding that parents and grandparents can transfer the voucher to their children or grandchildren. (To learn more, see Cash And Student Loan Forgiveness: The Perfect First Job.)
- Tapping Your Social Network
GreenNote is a service that's based on the same premise as those peer-to-peer micro-lending sites. A student sets up a profile and then they (or their parents) send out the link to their social networks. People can then make an online donation - the minimum is just $20 - to help support that student's education. It's not a loan, so it doesn't need to be repaid, and there are no credit checks involved.
The Bottom Line
Those tuition bills can be painful, so it is worth investing a little bit of time and effort to research every possible source of additional funds that can help make college a bit easier on the budget. (For more helpful hints, check out Pay For College Without Selling A Kidney.)
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