As a college student or family member, you know that there are many sources available in terms of financial aid for college.  Loans, grants and scholarships are the usual three that come to mind.  Any or all three of these will be beneficial to any student seeking money for higher education; but which is the best financial aid?

Let’s consider the obvious.  Loans are a fine way to assist in paying for school, and students don’t have to worry very much about them until they graduate.  The problem here, however, is that student loans accrue interest throughout the course of one’s education AND 6 months after graduation when payments begin (i.e. Unsubsidized Stafford Loan).  Because of this, students tend to owe more than they borrowed, which becomes overwhelming.

That said, many people would likely agree that “free money” is the preferred way to go.  Of course, in most cases, students have a combination of free and borrowed money.  To play more active roles in our college finances, it helps to keep our eyes peeled for great options.  Let’s discuss some grants and scholarships now.

The following two grants may be something to add to your personal checklist.

  • Federal Pell Grant.  The Pell Grant is one of the most sought after grant options offered by the federal government.  There are no essays to write, and one of few requirements is to attend a participating university.  Eligibility is based only on an individual’s financial need.  Students do have to be mindful of their academic performance, as this grant may be revoked if their grades are subpar.  Funds are sent to either the school or directly to the student.
  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG).  The same general guidelines as the Pell Grant apply to the FSEOG.  This grant, though, is intended for students who have the highest levels of financial need.  Students receiving the FSEOG have much lower Expected Family Contribution (EFC) levels, and cannot pay much toward their education.

Think about some scholarships as well.  Scholarship money typically ranges from $500 to around $2000, but may sometimes cover way more (athletic, various academic scholarships, etc).  Here are a few that are available.

  • Sallie Mae Scholarships.  Winners of these scholarships are drawn at random, and award amounts range from a few hundred dollars to a free ride to college.
  • AFSA Essay Contest.  The American Foreign Service Association sponsors an award for dependents of Foreign Service employees.  The winning essayist receives $2500 for school expenses and their university is awarded $500.
  • Educational Advancement Foundation (EAF) Merit Scholarship.  Alpha Kappa EAF awards academic scholarships to exceptional students in both undergraduate (sophomore or higher) and graduate programs.  Amounts vary, with the highest award set at $2500.

Any financial aid that a student receives can be of great help.  The best financial aid is certainly up to the individual, but it makes sense to minimize college debt right out of the gate.  Free money such as grants and scholarships don’t have to be repaid later, and these could turn out to be your best financial aid.  

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