Despite a slow economic recovery, the cost of a college education continues to rise year to year. Now more than ever before, parents and students are in need of financial assistance to pay for college tuition. In fact, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, the cost of tuition for entering freshmen at a four-year public college in 2009 was three times what it was in 1990 when those same students were born. So how can you apply for financial aid?
Applying for a Pell Grant
Any U.S. citizen can apply for a Pell grant, which supplements college tuition for financially needy students. To apply for a Pell grant, start by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. You must complete the FAFSA between January and June of the same calendar year, but prior to beginning school.
When you apply, have a copy of your most recent federal tax return on hand, as well as information about the balances in your savings and investment accounts. Complete the FAFSA as accurately as possible. You will be assigned a personal identification number (PIN) that you must retain for future use. PIN numbers will be used to access your FAFSA information and student records this year, as well as to apply for student aid in subsequent years.
Applying for Financial Aid at the University Level
Financial aid is also available through many colleges and universities. Some financial aid scholarships are awarded based on financial need, while others are awarded based on educational merit. To find out what types of school aid are available through your college or university, contact the campus financial aid office. Ask your financial aid advisor about both merit and need-based scholarships. Ask how you can get an application, as well as approaching deadlines.
If you have a tuition balance greater than your financial aid and scholarships, you may be able to apply for tuition assistance through your school. Many schools offer tuition payment plans that allow you to pay off your tuition balances over the course of the school year, rather than resorting to student loans.
Think Outside the Box
Remember, all of your financial assistance does not necessarily have to come from school or government grants. Sometimes, private organizations offer need-based scholarships, and some businesses even provide employees with tuition assistance for attending school. Also, keep in mind that any tuition and other school fees you pay out-of-pocket may be subject to federal tax deductions and credits, which may ultimately save you money on your annual tax bill and offset your personal tuition expenses.