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By: Charlestien Harris

Congratulations are in order for those of you that have reached this milestone in your educational endeavors. This can mean that those same graduates will be searching for money to continue their education. Finding money to fund college can be a daunting task at times but with a little persistence, you can snag a pot full of money that might cover everything from full tuition to books and maybe even room and board. Searching for money for college can be a full-time job and take a good bit of thought and time especially if you are actively applying for the scholarships. If you can find enough money to cover your entire college education, it might help you avoid having to supplement your short fall with student loans.  Student loan debt is currently at an all-time high and many people are struggling monthly to make ends meet within their budget.

Here are a few suggestions to get you help you find funding for college:

  1. Grants.  Colleges, states, and the federal government award grants and they do not require you to pay them back. Most grant awards are determined by your financial need, and by income that you reported on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Colleges also take into consideration how much they think your family can afford to pay for college and try to fill in the gap with a grant. Federal Pell Grants usually are awarded only to undergraduate students who display exceptional financial need and have not earned a bachelor’s, graduate, or professional degree.
  2. Scholarships. Scholarships is another way to help you pay for your college education.  Finding scholarships can be great but finding the right scholarship for you can be difficult. Each one you apply for has different requirements such as writing an essay, majoring in a specific subject area, or living in a certain part of the country. Those points can be restrictive but you can find what you need to cover your college expenses. They can also have deadlines, specific guidelines and requirements that you must adhere to during the application process. Make sure you read the directions carefully and provide the necessary information requested to complete the application. Most organizations will not accept an incomplete application nor will they make a second request for that information.  The federal government offers a wide variety of scholarships as well. If you plan to major in one of the sciences, you might try applying for the SMART or Science, Mathematics, and Research for Transformation Program.
  3. State Department of Education Funds. Nearly 30 states offer some type of college tuition assistance.  In Mississippi, the state offers three undergraduate grant programs: HELP, which awards full tuition for students with financial need; MTAG, which awards $500 per year to freshmen and sophomores and $1000 per year to juniors and seniors and MESG, which awards $2500 per year to high achieving students with a 29 or higher ACT and 3.5 or higher GPA.  All three of these grant programs require students to enroll full-time each term. The Arkansas Department of Higher Education has a “YOUniversal” system that serves as a one-stop shop to apply for financial aid. You can apply to over 25 scholarships with one application.
  4. Private Scholarships. Private scholarships can drastically reduce the cost of your education, and there are new ones available all throughout the year. No matter how old you are, what school you attend, or what your major is, you can benefit from applying for private scholarships. There are thousands of private scholarships out there from companies, nonprofits and community groups. The monetary awards have a vast range in value but can still help you to cover some or all of your college expenses. You can use a free online service like Scholly that suggests scholarships you might be eligible to apply. You complete an online profile and that information matches you with potential scholarships you may qualify to apply. Sororities and fraternities that offer scholarships to pay for college as well.
  5. Enroll in a Community College. Another great option to save money is to live off campus or enroll in community college. If commuting to school and living at home is an option, it can save a lot of money. The average cost for room and board is $10,440 at public colleges and $11,890 a year a private institutions. If your finances are really stretched-to-the-limit, then it might be worth exploring enrolling in a community college then transfer to a four-year school later. Tuition and fees at the average community college cost $3,520 last year. Some local community colleges are also offering free tuition is some cases. This move may save you a bundle when it comes to finding a way to cover your college cost.

Finding funds to cover your college cost can be a task that takes a great amount of your time but in due season, it may be time well spent if it is going to keep you from having to rely totally on student loans to pay for college. Some non-traditional options may include applying for a work-study job, becoming a resident dorm assistant on campus, or joining the military. You may also be able to take advantage of Employer Reimbursement Programs if you are already working and thinking about returning to school to obtain a degree.

If you would like more information on this topic or other financial topics, please feel free to email me at or call me at 662-624-5776.  Until next week—Stay financially fit!