A bachelor’s degree is one of the priciest investments young people can make now. So pricey, in fact, that many students from low-income families have to abandon their dreams of a college education and remain stuck in low-paying jobs. Postsecondary Education Opportunity states that nearly 80% of students born into high income families earn bachelor’s degrees, while just over 10% of students from low-income families are able to accomplish the same thing. It is a typically catch-22 situation in which students need the degree to break out of the low-income trap, but can’t afford the degree. Since people who earn a bachelor’s degree can earn almost $1 million more over a lifetime of working, students can’t afford to forego college. The key to breaking out of the low-income trap and earning a college education is to fully understand the costs and financial aid for college. Here are four things these students can do to turn their dreams into a reality:
Look for Free Money
The first step low-income students should take is to seek out and apply for free money. This can include government grants as well as scholarships from colleges and private organizations. The more gift aid a student receives, the lower the out-of-pocket costs of getting an education. Students should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid early each year and should also look for scholarships from community organizations, the college financial aid office, businesses, and private organizations. As an added bonus, prestigious scholarships can help students stand out from the crowd after graduation when they are seeking employment.
Students need to be aware of the fact that federal grants are based on financial need and are awarded first-come, first-served. As such, the FAFSA needs to be completed as soon as possible after January 1. You can complete the FAFSA to hold your place in the aid consideration process and later add your financial details after taxes have been filed. The first of the year is also the time to start looking for grant partnerships between outside organizations and schools and to find potential scholarship opportunities.
Take Advantage of Work-Study
Another program, the Federal Work-Study Program, is also based on student financial need. This program allows students to apply for work on campus and to earn a salary that helps cover the cost of college attendance. The amount of aid available through these programs depends upon the number of hours students have to work and will help students cover ongoing expenses throughout the school year. This program is exceptionally convenient for students who have to work while going to college, as jobs are on the same campus as classes.
Use Federal Loans
Federal loans, including Stafford, Perkins, and PLUS loans, provide the best interest rates and are exceptionally forgiving when graduates experience a rough time and need to reduce or suspend payments. Students can also check into schools that offer “no tuition” programs for low-income students. These programs can make what seemed like an impossible dream into a reality for many students. If you receive your financial aid offer and school is still out of reach, talk with financial aid advisors to explain your situation and to see if other options are available to you.
Seek Local Aid
Students may also find help in other areas. Students with dire financial need should reach out to community businesses and organizations for aid. They may also find help through online crowdfunding. Many people have a true desire to help students overcome the odds and succeed in education, so there is more funding available than one might think.
While college may seem to be merely a dream for low-income students, it is achievable if the students are willing to actively seek out and pursue every possible avenue of aid. In these instances, it truly is a matter of wanting it badly enough to do whatever it takes.