Everyone knows that college tuition is ridiculously expensive. The U.S. Education Department released statistics last month which shows that a shocking 41% of students have taken out loans to pay for school; this is up from 35% four years ago. But on the other hand, an unprecedented 57% of college undergraduates are receiving federal aid, including grants and scholarships to those from low-income families.
A recent survey by the New America Foundation of the country’s top 50 elite colleges found that Amherst College, Emory University, the USC and Vassar College were the most “accessible” elite schools. This survey is based on their higher acceptance (22%) of low-income students, compared to the other surveyed schools. A low-income student enrolled full time at Amherst pays only $448 a year. Outside this elite list, a full time, a low-income student at Georgia Tech can pay absolutely nothing as a first-year student, and just $310 at Cal Tech. However, you still do need the right grades and test scores to get into these prestigious universities.
Although searching and applying for grants does take time and energy, it’s completely worth it. You could end up getting free money for some or even ALL of your college tuition for the entire 4 years. Isn’t that motivation enough?
The key is to piece the funding together from different sources. Just because you got a few thousand dollars from the state doesn’t mean you should feel excited and stop there. If you’ve successfully applied once, that means you can do it again.
Pell Grants are federal funds generally given to students from families with an annual income of about $30,000 or less. Filling out a FAFSA form is the first step in finding out how much federal aid you are eligible for, so make this form your priority. Students can receive up to $5,500 per year, but this amount has recently been increased by the government. If you are eligible for a Pell Grant, the door is wide open for a host of many other opportunities.
Many states offer college-bound students (who are state residents) renewable financial aid. Although this might range from $800 to $3,000 a year, combining this award money with other grants can really add up!
To maximize your chances at scoring free money for college:
Fill in your FAFSA form as soon as possible. This will let you know how much federal aid you qualify for.
Apply for state aid, apply for assistance or scholarships at the colleges you are interested in. If you are eligible for a Pell Grant, that makes you much more likely to receive money from these other sources. But don’t forget that your GPA and extracurricular activities (sports teams, club president, etc) can play an important part in securing those need-based funds.
Figure out your “unique” criteria (minority, first in the family, in-demand career path, etc) and apply for grants and scholarships based on that. This is where the big money comes in, from sources like multinational corporations, private donors and foundations, and community organizations. Find out if the companies your parents work to give any kind of grants or scholarships to their employees’ children. Some of the large corporations that offer free college money to qualified students include Tylenol, Coca Cola, Microsoft, Target, KFC, Siemens, Buick, and Wal-Mart. For a better chance at winning one of these scholarships, look up the big Fortune 500 companies in industries that you are interested in.
Don’t stop searching and applying once you start your first year of college. Many grants and scholarships are available only to enrolled college students.
If you still aren’t happy with the free money (or lack thereof) that you’ve received, maybe you should consider moving to Europe. International university students in Norway, Austria, Germany, and Sweden can attend for free!
SuperMoney has launched a scholarship program in 2019. Our scholarship program awards $2,500 a year to a student who wants to help Americans improve their financial wellness through continued education. You can find more information about the scholarship program here.
Suchi Rudra is an avid traveler and freelance writer from Texas who covers personal finance, travel, green building, tech, and entrepreneurship. Her work can be found in VICE, The Guardian, Vice, American Way, BBC Travel, Fodor’s, Transitions Abroad, PlanetEye.com, TravelStart.com, Expats.cz, The Writer and India Currents and many other publications.