See what the federal government has to offer.
The FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, should be the first stop for anyone seeking education funding. FAFSA is used by nearly all colleges and universities to determine eligibility for federal, state, and college-sponsored financial aid, including grants, educational loans, and work-study programs.
It’s best not to wait to be accepted to a graduate program before completing the FAFSA. You should apply early, during the application submission process, because financial aid is usually awarded at the same time as the acceptance letters.
“There are federal student loans available for the majority of people who apply,â€ says Quinn.Â Use the FAFSA4caster calculator at the federal government’s financial aid site to determine your eligibility for federal student aid (http://studentaid.ed.gov/fafsa/estimate). Learn more about the FAFSA by visiting www.fafsa.ed.gov and www.studentaid.ed.gov.
There are also federal government grants for veterans. “The renewed GI plan is offering a ton of money for people to go back to school,â€ says Todd Weaver, college planning expert at Strategies for College Inc. The Post-9/11 GI Bill pays all tuition and fees for in-state students attending public schools, and up to the national maximum rate for tuition and fees for students at private or foreign schools, with a few exceptions. The funds may be used for college degree programs, as well as vocational, technical, and entrepreneurship training programs. One helpful site to check out is gibill.va.gov/benefits/post_911_gibill.
Apply for a fellowship.
“Colleges are one of the best places to look for aid, and the most underutilized,â€ says Quinn. “If you are looking for scholarships or free assistance, you have to equate it to a job search. You must handle it with that type of diligence.â€
This is where 34-year-old Kendra China found financial assistance. In 2011, the former teacher walked away from the reading center she owned to return to school to become a reading researcher. China felt she could help more people if she was on the intervention development side instead of just helping a few students per day who needed one-on-one help.
“I had to make some clear financial decisions because my salary was going to be cut into a fifth of what I was accustomed to making,â€ says China. China chose the University of Virginia in part because she was awarded a fellowship that pays for her tuition (according to the UVA tuition page, the cost of a Ph.D. at the school is about $22,000 per year for out-of-state students) and health insurance, and provides students with a stipend of up to $30,000 annually for living expenses such as housing and food.
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