I’m a new college student, and I’m concerned about student debt. My first year is paid for through grants and scholarships, but I’m worried about the rest of my time at college. Is it possible to avoid student debt, or will I have to take out loans before I graduate?
There’s no way around it – college is expensive. For many students, loans are the simplest solution, but the simplest solution isn’t always the best one. Right now, Americans owe more than $1.5 trillion in federal student loans and $119 billion in private student loans.
You’re right to be worried, and it’s a good idea to start planning right now if you want to avoid having to take out loans to finish your education. It sounds like you have the first year figured out, and there’s no reason why you can’t replicate this scenario for the remaining years you have in college.
There are many ways to get free money for college, and FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is a good place to start.
FAFSA will allow you to apply for financial aid for college, which includes federal grants, state aid, work-study programs, school aid and more. Make sure that you understand the deadline for filling out and submitting FAFSA. Keep in mind that there is no income cutoff, so it can’t hurt to see how much, if any, money you’ll be eligible for in federal aid.
Federal grants include:
- Academic Competitiveness Grant: A combination of merit- and need-based grant for college freshman and sophomores.
- Federal Pell Grants: Based solely on your financial need.
- TEACH Grants: An option for students who agree to teach for at least four years at a public school that services low-income families.
- Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants (FSEOG): For low-income students who require substantial financial aid for college.
- Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants: Available to students whose parents or guardians have passed away due to military service in Iraq or Afghanistan after 9/11.
- National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent (SMART) Grant: Available to college juniors and seniors based on their merit and financial need.
Along with federal aid, there are scholarships that you can apply for. There are thousands of scholarships out there, and like grants, they provide you with money that you do not have to pay back.
Grants and scholarships are really your best options aside from actual cash savings. Just keep in mind that scholarships have deadlines and requirements that you’ll have to meet. You’ll need to apply for new scholarships every year.
Your school or state may also offer grants to help pay for your tuition. To find out about state grants, you’ll need to get in touch with a state grant agency provided by the Department of Education.
If you do some digging, you can also find grants for:
- International students
- National organizations
The goal is to exhaust all of your options before even considering student loans. Between grants and scholarships, you may be able to cover most or all of your tuition. If you have any savings or can receive financial assistance from your parents, that can help significantly.