Six Rules for Paying for College
It's no secret that these days, college costs are over the top. But with a little planning, you'd be surprised at what you can accomplish. UNCF president Michael Lomax points the way.
Second, college is not free. Even community colleges cost thousands of dollars a semester. Public, four-year universities cost tens of thousands of dollars -- and private colleges can cost more than many moderate-income families earn in a year. Even textbooks can cost hundreds of dollars; there are fees for everything from student activities to parking to using computer and science laboratories. Somebody is going to have to pay, and that somebody will most likely be you.
All of this is doable -- if you plan ahead. Start by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid at FAFSA.gov. Once the form is completed, you will be notified how much you may be entitled to in federal scholarship grants, how much you may be able to borrow through federally subsidized loans and how much your family will be expected to contribute toward your education. The lower your family's income, the more aid you will be entitled to and the less your family will need to contribute.
Third, most scholarships are awarded on the basis of merit and need. Start by going to UNCF.org and clicking on the "For Students" tab to see which scholarships you might qualify for. One UNCF scholarship, the Gates Millennium Scholars Program (GMS), pays all college expenses not covered by Pell Grants, other scholarships or a student's family contribution for 1,000 new freshmen each year.
GMS and other programs of this type are competitive, and there are usually many more applicants than there are scholarships to award. So the best guarantee of getting a scholarship is for college-bound students to work very hard, make very good grades and develop records of academic distinction that will make them more competitive.
Colleges look for a wide variety of students, so highlight the things that make you different. Take part in activities in areas of your interests, doing things that you can do well and through which you can make a contribution. If you're musically inclined, think of joining the school orchestra, band or choir. If your interest is in theater, audition for the school play.
Look for opportunities to give back to the school or the community, like tutoring younger students in the subjects you know best, or taking a regular shift helping out at a community center. Make sure you mention these kinds of activities on your application. And students will need to research what scholarships to apply for and when, so again, planning is essential.
Fourth, in addition to merit-based scholarships, there are federal need-based dollars to which low-income students are entitled, regardless of academic performance -- as long as the student is enrolled in college. These are called Pell Grants, and while they help, they rarely cover all of the costs of going to college. Students and their families will still have to contribute, and those family contributions are too often not planned. But the lower your family income, the higher your Pell Grant will be and the less your family will need to contribute. Again, plan ahead. You can find out more about Pell Grants and other federal grant programs at www.studentaid.ed.gov.