Financial Aid Options and News
Financial Aid Options for College and Graduate School – What is available? Does it apply to me?
For most students applying for college and graduate school admissions, the battle is not yet over when their admission to their choice university is accepted. Achieving post-baccalaureate studies is expensive, so finding the resources becomes essential to achieve this goal. There are several options when considering financial aid and scholarships. Some are in the form of loans, some are grants and some merit scholarships, among others. Grants are financial aid awarded on the basis of need. Loans are another option, sometimes given by the U.S. government and its institutions, other times, by private lenders. However, they are known for placing a burden on the student, who incurs a debt upon completion of studies.
Students who have achieved excellence in academics, sports or some other fields can also apply for merit scholarships. Merit scholarships are awarded on the basis of several criteria. Some organizations look into factors like academic performance, achievement in athletics / sports or artistic abilities. Some others are awarded on the basis of special interests. The core idea is to reward talent.
There are scholarship programs for diverse students that aim to promote diversity within the university campus. Thus, if you are a diverse student and your credentials are on an even platform with mainstream students, you have a better chance of receiving a merit scholarship than students lacking international experiences, backgrounds and ethnicity.
Universities treat merit scholarship opportunities in different ways. Many times, we find that universities with large endowments will be able to provide more aid to students than others. As an example, Rice University states that it considers every admitted freshman for merit scholarships. Among several programs it offers, the University has two categories called Trustee Diversity Scholarships, and the Barbara and Jordan Scholarships, which have the purpose of encouraging diversity. Another two categories serve international students. Several other universities have similar programs, so the university you are joining could also be open to partially or fully funding your education.
When should you start your scholarship search? The answer is much before starting your graduate school admissions process. Scholarships can be granted many times a year in advance to the beginning of your studies. This is why starting early will provide a great advantage – you will not have to worry as much about finances as you would if you had already completed the admissions process without having earned any “free money”.
Institutions and companies are other sources to look for merit scholarships. The Gates Millennium Scholars (GMS), established in 1999 with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a well known example. GMS supports meritorious African American, Hispanic American and other diverse student categories. College and Graduate scholarships of GMS are available in the fields of mathematics, science, engineering, education and library science.
How do I find which scholarships are available to me? There are several scholarship search websites that are completely free to the student and will help you identify scholarships to which you can apply. Two of these sites are www.fastweb.com and www.schoolsoup.com
To learn more about how to apply to financial aid, fill out a FASFA and a CSS Profiler, the first one required by the government to provide assistance to students, you can go to www.finaid.org
Now, what is yet to come from the new Obama administration?
With the initiatives put on the table by Barack Obama, we have a lot to look forward to regarding higher education affordability and financing. Obama has stated that his government will support tax credits for college education. He plans to institute soon a universal and fully refundable credit of $4,000 for a college education. Obama has also expressed he will cover two-thirds of the cost of tuition at public colleges. Finally, he has promised to make community college tuition free for most students. This will make college affordable to many more of us, looking to receive higher education.
The financial aid application process, as Obama states, will become much easier. At this point, many students and families struggle in filling out correctly the FASFA forms. This shall no longer be, as this form is planned to be substituted by a simple check box on the tax forms, to allow students not to fill out double applications.
President Obama is committed to make education a priority, and has asked the U.S. population to commit to receiving at least one year of college education. This is a hard task to achieve, as dropout rates for high schools in 17 out of the 50th largest cities in the U.S. were over 50% in 2008. Obama plans to address this dropout crisis by passing his legislation to provide funding to school districts to invest in intervention strategies in middle school. These strategies will involve personal academic plans, teaching teams, parent involvement, mentoring, intensive reading and math instruction, and extended learning time. Programs will allow for better instruction in middle school and high school throughout the country. Incentives and more education opportunities for teachers, an increase in the amount of students taking AP courses through local community colleges, support of transitional bilingual education, will support students and the system itself to produce a better outcome than presently from the high school education years.
However, the opportunity is in our hands to believe that college education is important for us, and worth the time expense, financial burden and overall sacrifice. With all the planned incentives, these burdens will become smaller than ever before possible.
Although achieving one year of college education for the entire student population in the U.S. could be a far-fetched dream at this point, vocational schooling, skill training or career education is another alternative that could be considered. Statistics show that professionals that earn an associates degree or a bachelor’s degree do earn more over their lifetime than those who do not. An education is an investment that should sooner than later pay off financially and also, in terms of our society’s productivity.
The support will be there for those interested in pursuing their studies. Initiatives and programs to help students achieve a college education are already available and will be receiving more funding from the government. Some of these programs are the TRIO, Upward Bound and Gear Up. These initiatives work with students to provide help regarding academic advice, personal counseling, and career workshops; information on postsecondary education opportunities and student financial assistance; help in completing applications for college admissions, testing, and financial aid; coordination with nearby postsecondary institutions; media activities designed to involve and acquaint the community with higher education opportunities; tutoring; and mentoring.
As financing your college education is as important as achieving it, a new program will be launched also by the government to teach students financial planning. With a large part of the student populations currently buried in debt, this is one area that Obama’s administration plans to address, in order to start bringing a solution, and helping students effectively manage their loans. Bankruptcy amongst recent college grads has escalated, but will be addressed, providing financial education to new college students.
Some institutions already offering this help can be found at the U.S. Department of Education website at www.ed.gov . The resources are here, available to us. There is no excuse now not to pursue an education. Whether you are a high school student, a college graduate or an adult, incentives, scholarships and aid apply to each one of us. The question is, what are we waiting for to take action today?