Over the past two decades, higher education has become very expensive—it’s difficult for many families to afford all the expenses associated with going to college. In the 2020–2021 academic year, the average annual cost of tuition and fees for a private university was $41,411, while the annual cost for a public college was only $11,171. Either way, that’s a lot of money for just one year! Although college comes with a whopping price tag, there are various options that can help you and your family afford your enrollment at your dream school. Here are the different opportunities that are available for you so you don’t have to worry about the huge burden of student debt.
There are a variety of scholarships offered to students to aid them with paying for college. There are even scholarships you can easily apply to without having to meet specific academic requirements or turning in essays. There are scholarships that are merit based, awarding students for their academic achievements, and some for community service, athleticism, hobbies/extracurriculars, ethnic or racial identities, financial need, and the military. You can easily find scholarships just for you by creating an account on any of the free scholarship websites listed below (including various scholarships that are offered right here on CollegeXpress!):
Related: How to Expand Your Reach and Find Scholarships in Hidden Places
Federal grant programs
The US Department of Education offers a wide variety of federal grants to students enrolled in college. But be aware that these grants are only offered to people who are in need of financial aid. Here are the different grants offered by the US Department of Education:
Federal Pell Grant
To get a Federal Pell Grant, you’ll have to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The maximum amount offered by this grant is $6,495, but the amount you receive is based on these factors: your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), the cost of attendance for your school, your status as a full-time or part-time student, and your plans to attend for a full academic year or less. This grant is the best option for many students since it guarantees you an award and doesn’t require a lot, other than financial need.
Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG)
The only requirement to be eligible for the FSEOG Grant is to file the FAFSA. You can receive between $100–$4,000 per year depending on your financial need. Every participating school receives a certain amount of FSEOG funds, but unlike the Federal Pell Grant, which guarantees you with an amount, this grant is not 100% guaranteed. If your school runs out of the given funds to distribute, they’ll stop granting money for that year. This grant is great to apply for, but since it’s not guaranteed, it’s best that you make this your alternate option.
Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant
If your parent or guardian died during military service in Iraq or Afghanistan, you may be eligible for this grant. Here are the requirements you need to meet:
- Being ineligible for the Federal Pell Grant due to your EFC but meeting the rest of the Federal Pell Grant requirements;
- Having a parent or guardian who was part of the US armed forces when they died in Iran or Afghanistan; and
- Being under 24 years old or enrolled in college when they passed away.
The amount you will receive is $6,495. If you meet all these requirements, you should definitely apply for this grant.
Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grants
Here are the requirements to be eligible for the TEACH Grant:
- Meet the basic eligibility criteria for the federal student aid programs;
- Complete the FAFSA;
- Be enrolled as an undergraduate, postbaccalaureate, or graduate student at a school that participates in the TEACH Grant Program;
- Be enrolled in a TEACH Grant–eligible program;
- Meet certain academic requirements (generally, scoring above the 75th percentile on one or more portions of a college admission test or maintaining a cumulative GPA of at least 3.25);
- Receive TEACH Grant counseling that explains the terms and conditions of the service obligation (must be done each year); and
- Sign a TEACH Grant Agreement to Serve.
This grant offers up to $4,000 a year to students who qualify. Though this grant has a lot of requirements to meet, it’ll all be worth it if you’re willing to put in the effort for it.
Related: What’s the Difference Between Scholarships and Grants?
Work study jobs
Work-study jobs are part-time jobs provided by colleges and universities to help undergraduate and graduate students pay their college tuition and fees. To see if you’re eligible for work-study, you have to fill out the FAFSA. The federal work-study program often offers work-study jobs directly tied to your college major so you can gain experience in your desired field and money to help you pay your college expenses. By accepting a work-study job at your college, you can reduce your student debt while having a valuable experience that could benefit you in the future!
A federal loan is money you borrow; unlike scholarships or grants, you’ll be required to pay it back later—with interest. To see if you're eligible for a federal student loan, you must fill out and submit the FAFSA. Here are the different types of federal loans you can apply and qualify for:
- Direct Subsidized Loans: Loans for eligible undergraduate students who demonstrate financial need
- Direct Unsubsidized Loans: Loans for eligible undergraduate, graduate, and professional students not based on financial need
- Direct PLUS Loans: Loans that graduate or professional degree students and parents of dependent undergraduate students can use to help pay for education expenses
- Direct Consolidation Loans: Loans that allow you to combine all your eligible federal student loans into a single loan with a single loan servicer
There’s also the option of private loans, but these should be your last resort since they have higher interest rates than federal loans and don’t offer loan forgiveness after you graduate.
Related: Types of Student Loans Explained: Federal vs. Private
Paying for college can be a struggle and even a nightmare for some, but by doing your research and applying for scholarships, grants, work-study jobs, or even federal loans, you can reduce your hefty student debt. Most of these financial aid opportunities are easy to apply to, and you never know what aid you may qualify for. So be sure to apply (and apply early!) for these different opportunities to help you pay for college and have a brighter future.
Find great scholarship opportunities using our Scholarship Search tool, and learn about other ways to pay for college in our Financial Aid section.