If the only thing stopping you from going to college is the price tag, you have come to the right place. College costs can be very scary. However, very few people actually pay the full sticker price for college. The only people who pay full price for college are the ones who do not do their college funding homework.
There are four main places to look for free college money: the Federal Government, your State Government, the College itself, and outside sources.
The Federal Government
The first step you must take to see if you qualify for Federal grants is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This electronic form and all of its instructions and information is available at the official Department of Education FAFSA website. Be sure to follow FAFSA with .ed.gov rather than .com. Any other website with FAFSA in the title will charge you a fee to help you complete the form. When your schools receive your FAFSA data, they determine the amount of free money you are eligible to receive from the Federal Government, and include it in the award letter they mail to you.
Your State Government
Many states have student grant aid programs (free college money) available to their own students. These grant aid programs vary significantly from state to state. Check with your state student grant agency to see the eligibility criteria, application procedures and deadlines.
The College Itself
Colleges publish their annual tuition amount for everyone to see. But how many of their students actually pay the full price? At some schools, that number is very low. Depending on their endowment (their investment portfolio which dictates how much money they can give away in scholarships and grants) and their financial aid packaging policy, many students may only pay a slight portion of the actual tuition. Two schools may charge the exact same tuition, but if School A has a financial aid packaging policy that discounts the tuition by half or more, could that affect your decision? But there is a catch: colleges do not readily share that information. Students do not usually find out how much their school is going to give them until they get their financial aid award letter during the spring or summer before they are supposed to start school in the fall. That does not give you much time to make a decision, especially if you have fallen in love with a school that you cannot really afford. There are ways to find out how much of its own money a school typically gives to its students, but they require a lot of time and research.
We have all heard of the billions and billions of dollars in scholarships that go unawarded each year simply because no one has bothered to apply for them. And while that may be a bit of an overstatement, the reality is that you can not throw a rock on the internet these days without hitting a scholarship site! They are everywhere! My most important piece of advice is: NEVER PAY FOR A SCHOLARSHIP SEARCH! They are available for free. But do not stop there. Do you belong to a church or synagogue? Ask if they have a scholarship for their members going off to college. Do you or anyone in your family belong to a civic or social organization (Lions Club, Rotary, Knights of Columbus, Soroptimist, etc.)? Ask them about scholarships. If you are a dependent student, ask your mom and dad if their employer has scholarships for their employees or their family. If you have a job, ask your employer about scholarship opportunities. Are you a Girl Scout or Boy Scout? Ask your troop leader. If you are serious about finding scholarships, think outside the box. Get creative about where to look. And be sure to apply for every scholarship that you qualify for. Too many students think that a $250 scholarship is not worth their time. Do not make that mistake. Even small scholarships can really add up.
Now that you have some tools to help you with your college funding homework, go get your free college money!