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Finding the Funds for College
Are you thinking about college � and concerned about its ever-rising costs? At CCFA, we understand the harsh impact of medical expenses on a family budget, but don't let fear of finances stop you from pursuing your educational ambitions to the max.
You can certainly find ways to make college affordable, as long as you're prepared to do some serious homework. We've compiled a brief guide to locating and pursuing America's huge array of scholarships, grants, loans, and other combinations of financial aid.
Where Are You Headed?
The first step towards financing college is developing a list of some potential schools. The following College Questions provides some key considerations as you begin to assess possibilities.
COLLEGE QUESTIONS �What field do you want to pursue? �Does this school have a good program in that field? �How far do you want to travel? �Is this college within your preferred radius? �Are you interested in a small college or large university with a diverse student population? �Do you want a small-town setting or a big city environment? �Realistically, does your academic record make you a candidate for this college? As you evaluate colleges through Web sites or print catalogs, be sure to check their services and facilities for students with any type of chronic health condition, advises Len Mednick, an experienced counselor at Kingsborough Community College (KCC) in Brooklyn, New York. "Here at KCC, our Special Services Counselor, Dariese DeVita, does an outstanding job for students with Crohn's Disease," he notes. "Realizing that the student may require frequent breaks, they're built right into the schedule." Each semester, DeVita will prepare a special program, allowing for extra time between classes. She'll also notify each instructor in advance (with the student's permission) about any particular needs.
Try to visit each college on your list. If you're considering spending a few years there, an in-person sampling is an excellent predictor of whether it's a good match. "As you walk around the campus, talk to other students. See if you're comfortable in that environment," Mednick advises. "Make sure to stop by the Special Services office. Talk to someone on staff, so you'll know whether they're responsive to your individual needs. Be clear with the counselor about any potential functional physical limitation. Then, you'll also have a personal contact at Special Services, if you do attend that college."
Once you've selected a manageable number of colleges (perhaps five), start adding all the yearly expenses you'd have: tuition, room and board, transportation, books, telephone and computer access, medical bills, insurance, and your other cost-of-living items. Then ask yourself, "How can I pay for all these costs?"
In part, the answer begins to germinate with each college application, which will include various financial aid forms. Later on, an acceptance letter arrives along with the school's specific financial aid offer for you. A typical package could include state and federal grants for which you qualify, some amount of scholarship money from the college itself, and a work/study or co-op education offer. (For more details on various categories of financial aid, see Financing 101, below.)
With multiple acceptances, "people often compare financial aid offers as one selection factor," says Mednick. "You can even ask for a better package. Don't be afraid to call the Financial Aid office if you need a bit more to cover costs at the school you most want to attend." (You might mention your specific medical expenses as one reason.) "Remember, if they want you, they'll give you more aid. It never hurts to ask."
The gap between what your potential college will actually cost, and what it offers along with your acceptance, is where your own "detective skills" can really pay off.
Getting a Grant
The most desirable types of financial aid are the categories you won't have to repay. As a flexible guideline, grants are usually based on financial need; scholarships are awarded for "merit."
Among leading grant sources are two large, need-based federal programs. Pell Grants currently provide up to $3,300 per year. Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (SEOGs) are up to $4,000. To qualify for either, applicants fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form.
Many states have their own programs, basing allocations on your family's financial information. One is CalGrants, a state-funded agency to help California students pay their college expenses (www.csac.ca.gov). To learn more about your state's program, as well as SEOG and Pell grants, check with your high school's counseling office.
The nonprofit Foundation Center, a leading philanthropy clearinghouse, tracks grants and fellowships, often at the graduate level. You can find a wealth of free information on their Web site (http://fdncenter.org) and at their five regional libraries. The Center's free on-line newsletter, RFP Bulletin (http://fdncenter.org/pnd/rfp/index.jhtml) carries timely listings of grants open for application. While mainly for organizations, some are for individuals: A recent issue announced the $10,000 Paul G. Hearne/American Association of People with Disabilities Leadership Award, for two people emerging as leaders in their field.
Hundreds of thousands of scholarships are offered in America, many by individual colleges. In addition, The College Board (a national membership association of universities and colleges) tracks over $2.8 billion each year in "portable awards" (those not connected to a particular school).
Awards can be as modest as $100, or as generous as full tuition at a respected university. Whatever their value, scores of scholarships go unclaimed. "People simply don't find out about them, or don't bother applying because they think they won't be qualified," Mednick suspects.
How can you qualify? Scholarships may focus on academic or athletic achievements, community activities, aspirations, background, or other factors. Locating them is literally a treasure hunt. Your high school's college office has information on large, well-known awards like the National Merit Scholarship. Discovering less-known, potentially appropriate awards invites ingenuity and persistence.
"Start by making a list of everything that makes you unique," advises Mednick. Jot every detail: where you live; medical conditions; club memberships; special skills or expertise; hobbies, languages; volunteer experience; jobs; birthplaces of parents or ancestors; career goals; etc.
Accelerate your research on-line. For instance, investigate scholarships in your career interest. Aspiring news anchors searching "Broadcaster" + scholarships will find over 100,000 sources, including state and national broadcaster associations, and many individual colleges.
Some religious or ethnic groups offer scholarships. Since 1975, the Hispanic College Fund (www.hsf.net) has awarded over 68,000 scholarships, worth more than $144 million, in all 50 states. The National Council of Jewish Women of New York (www.ncjwny.org) offers a $3,000 award to someone with a disability. The American Chemical Society (www.acs.org) awards up to $3,000 per year to qualified black, Hispanic, or American Indian students who plan to become chemists, biochemists, chemical engineers, etc.
Children of veterans, union members, and employees of major corporations are often eligible for scholarships. Check with the Veterans Administration (www.gibill.va.gov) or the Human Resources office of your parent's employer. The AFL-CIO's huge "UnionPlus Scholarship Data Base" describes over $4 million in available awards and includes applications (www.unionscholarships.com). Nearly 38,000 local U.S. unions offer scholarships, too; contact your state's AFL-CIO office.
Many major companies, such as Coca Cola, have generous scholarship programs (www.cocacola.com). Procter & Gamble, manufacturer of Asacol� � a commonly used medication for inducing and maintaining remission in IBD � offers several types of scholarships, including awards in engineering or leadership (www.pg.com). You'll find some corporate scholarships when searching by your geographic area or field of interest.
Explore your hometown for possibilities. The Chamber of Commerce might help identify prospects, which can include local businesses, fraternal organizations, charities, community groups, and other entities. In 2005, Kayla Kreich, of Poway CA, won a San Diego Foundation Rubinstein Crohn's and Colitis Scholarship.
A surprising number of scholarships are offered to people with IBD. ConvaTec sponsors the annual Ina Brudnick Award for students 24 and younger who have had ostomy surgery and/or have Crohn's disease. For information on the Ina Brudnick Award, visit www.greatcomebacks.com.
Beyond IBD-specific support, searching "chronic illness" + scholarships + awards yields over 25,000 results! Some examples are specific awards from Depaul University (http://www.snl.depaul.edu/current/scholarship_application.asp), University of Georgia (www.dissvcs.uga.edu/scholarships.html), University of South Carolina (http://www.uscupstate.edu/enrollment_services/scholarships/university4.asp), and a Youth Opportunities Scholarship for a Delaware student (http://www.delcf.org/Apply_4_2.htm).
Is your condition severe? Check the many scholarships for students with disabilities. Start with the federally-funded clearinghouse, the Heath Center at George Washington University Graduate School of Education & Human Development. Their Web site, www.heath.gwu.edu, details educational support services, adaptations, and financial aid for higher education.
Some scholarship Web sites charge fees to subscribe. However, with many excellent free sites available, your search doesn't need to cost a cent. (With "free" registration, the sponsor usually shares your contact information with colleges and student marketing firms.) Three excellent resources are www.fastweb.com, www.scholarships.com, and www.petersons.com/finaid.
Masses of scholarship information are in hefty, expensive print directories. If you'd rather not buy one, find them at your public library or high school college/career office. Scholarships are classified by subject (e.g., biology), type of sponsor (e.g., corporation), location (e.g., state programs), application characteristics (e.g. heritage or disability), and other categories. Annually updated, the best-known guides include Peterson's Scholarships, Grants and Prizes (Thomson-Peterson's), The Scholarship Book (Prentice-Hall), and the Scholarship Handbook (College Board).
Don't narrow your opportunities. Applying for several different scholarships improves your odds of receiving at least one. Any scholarship is a point of pride and an impressive resume entry.
Another way of making college affordable is simply by lowering its costs. Consider starting out at a community college, then transferring to a senior college. Tuition is much less expensive. "The drop-out rate at four-year colleges will provide opportunities for a second- or third-year transfer to a school where you might not have been accepted initially," says Mednick. "Take the chance to acquire a solid GPA of 3 or better at a community college, where competition for top grades is less intense. If you weren't at the top of your high school class, weigh the advantages of a situation where you will be."
Community college students can receive financial aid, including federal and state grants. "These are non-competitive, and can cover tuition, books, and your other costs. By remaining in good standing (C average or better), with a fulltime course-load each semester, you'll be able to keep those grants. Federal grants follow you when you transfer to a four-year school, but state grants don't if you leave the state," Mednick notes.
Co-op education is another tactic to lessen financial burdens. At a school offering co-op, you'll alternate between a job and classes. Unlike internships, generally for credit only, co-op students are paid for their work. "Often, co-op programs are in specific majors, such as Business or Culinary Arts," says Mednick. "Some colleges will advertise their co-op program as a way their students can help pay for college. This may be an attractive benefit."
Another smart cost-cutting strategy, while in high school, is taking as many Advanced Placement classes as possible. Mednick has seen students enter KCC having accumulated nine or more credits (equivalent to English 1, American History 1, Sociology 1, etc.). "Some students have up to a year's worth! This spares you the price of all those credits. At $1,000 each, you've saved $3,000 per course. You'll also save yourself time," he adds.
City and state schools are far less expensive than private colleges (depending on your aid package). Sometimes a prospective student establishes residency in a state for a year to qualify for the lower in-state tuition rates.
The prerequisite for most types of financial aid � from either government or individual colleges � is the detailed FAFSA form, which you can download or complete on-line (http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/.) Once the government determines your award, each school incorporates that information into setting your financial aid package. If you need assistance with FAFSA, try to get help at a college or high school financial aid office.
Find comprehensive information on all government financial aid programs at FAFSA and at Federal Student Aid. The Internet brims with good, well-explained material on all the basics of financial aid. One excellent site, award-winning www.finaid.org (sponsored by the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators), includes a glossary and even a list of myths. Two other useful sources are www.offtocollege.com/financial-aid/index.html and www.collegeboard.com/pay.
Consider a payment plan. Some colleges allow students to make interest-free monthly tuition payments over the school year, not all at once. Check with the school's financial aid office.
On your application, you can apply for a Work-Study program, if available. This will provide you a part-time job at the college, in exchange for part of your tuition. "Students might work in the bookstore, computer lab, or tutoring program, for instance," says Mednick.
Over half of students pay at least some college expenses through a loan. The most desirable are subsidized loans, which have lower interest rates. Repayment does not begin until after graduation. The U.S. government runs two subsidized loan programs, the Stafford and the Perkins. An unsubsidized Stafford loan category accrues interest, but the student can defer all interest payments while still in school (www.salliemae.com).
For a good round-up of commercial student loans, visit either College Funding Services (www.cfscampusloans.com) or www.eStudentLoan.com. The College Board has a series of clear, straightforward articles about all types of loans under "Loan Center" at www.collegeboard.com/pay.
Apply early; "a later application lessens your chances for financial aid," Mednick notes. Keep careful track of all your filings for admission, grants, scholarships, loans, etc. Remember, you'll have to re-apply annually for all forms of college financing.
Apart from monetary awards, the entire application process is an invaluable experience in evaluating, organizing and presenting your qualifications. Good luck!
- Carol Milano
posted on February 23, 2006