TIPS FOR FINDING TUITION ASSISTANCE
BY NINA GREENPLATE
Financing a college education can be a challenge. In 2022, collegeboard.org determined in-state tuition averages $10,740 annually for a four-year public university, with out-of-state students paying well over twice that amount.
And hold on to your wallets, because private institutions start at around $38,070.
Add in housing, food and books, and you’ve racked up quite a bill. But take heart, smart options exist for real assistance.
FAFSA: FREE APPLICATION FOR FEDERAL STUDENT AID
Start here. Used by the Department of Education, this required eligibility form must be completed for all federal student loans, grants, federal work study, and to qualify for state and institutional scholarships.
University of South Carolina Beaufort director of financial aid/Veteran affairs, Pat Greene, explains the importance of the ‘early-bird-catching-the-worm’ approach.
“The most important thing is to start the process as soon as possible,” she says.
The USCB staff encourages high school seniors to complete the FAFSA promptly after Oct. 1 for an anticipated spring graduation.
“Get the FAFSA form done,” Greene said.
Financial-aid offices should be the first stop for funding options including required forms and deadlines. Greene said their office takes an active role in regional Financial Aid Nights, where various funding opportunities are presented. These events are typically hosted by area high schools, so it’s important to connect with your high school guidance counselors and attend.
In October, the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education promotes an annual event, College Goal South Carolina.
“At this event, CHE representatives discuss the state scholarships and grant programs that are offered by the state of South Carolina, and financial aid representatives discuss federal, institutional and private sources of aid,” says Greene.
THE 529 PLAN
Statistics from the National Center for Education show 85 percent of college hopefuls need some form of assistance to complete their higher education. A great tool is the 529 Plan. This taxable investment account can help you gain a tax benefit as you set aside money for tuition. Eventually these funds can be used tax-free for qualified education expenses. If you can pay into a 529 for 10 years, it can potentially pay for two years of college. The 529 relies heavily on stock market returns so a backup savings is a good idea. Withdrawals during freshman and sophomore years can affect financial aid awards. Contact your tax advisor to see if it makes sense to use funding from other sources during the first two years of college.
For more, visit savingforcollege.com/intro-to-529s/what-is-a-529-plan.
Federal grants dedicated to tuition assistance can be applied for after first completing the FAFSA. There are four standard Grant options: Pell Grants (most utilized); Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG); Iraq and Afghanistan Service College Grant; and Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grant (TEACH). Your state and prospective college can also ‘gift’ you grant money, so verify this option with them. States often provide these to students wishing to attend public universities within their home state.
Scholarships are often referred to as “gift aid” as they generally don’t need to be repaid. Start at collegeboard.com to enter your information and find a match from nearly 6,000 programs, totaling more than $4 billion in annual scholarships. Monies can be awarded based on financial need, academic merit, athletics, gender and ethnicity, community service, military service and more. View open scholarships and filter out your own unique situation and/or talent for potential matches. Search under interests, affiliations or clubs, situational status, citizenship, and other possibilities for your circumstance.
Private student loans from banks, credit unions and online lenders are a common option, but unlike federal loans these will require credit checks. It’s therefore likely a co-signer will need to back up an undergraduate’s application. Loans need to be paid back. Both federal and private loans come with their own pros and cons. Many resources exist for you to determine your best course of action.
Links to get you started:
Federally funded, participating colleges and universities assist students with these applications for on and off-campus positions with community service agencies. After a completed FAFSA form, eligibility is determined based on financial need and family income. Your school’s financial aid department is allocated an annual amount for this program. Once hired, students directly receive money for for day-to-day college expenses and/or toward tuition costs.