How to Take the Pain Out of Paying for College

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Scholarships and Resources to Help Military Families Pay for College

The sky is blue. The sun is yellow. College is expensive.

Really, really expensive.

The bad news? If you’re going to school now, you’ve probably missed out on scholarship season for this year.

The good news? Now’s the perfect time to get a jump on scholarships, grants and programs for whoever is planning on going to school next year.

The even better news? There are a lot of options for helping to make college a little less painful for your finances.

College is expensive. Here are the obvious and not-so-obvious scholarships and resources to help military families pay for college.

The Obvious Ones

Using the Post-9/11 GI Bill? Make sure you know the ins and outs of all of the benefits the bill comes with. You also want to know exactly how much it will cover for your educational institution. Watch out for for-profit colleges—many are in hot water for soaking military-connected students for their GI Bills.

If you’re using the Post-9/11 GI Bill and it won’t cover all of your costs, check out the Yellow Ribbon Program. Some schools participate in this program and make funding available to Post-9/11 GI Bill students to cover the amount that isn’t covered. The list of participating schools updates every year.

MyCAA is an educational grant program for military spouses. You need to make sure that you qualify with respect to your spouse’s service and apply online before you can use the grant money. You are entitled to up to $2,000 a year for a total of $4,000. The course of study needs to be approved before you can use the grant and you can apply it toward certifications, 2-year degrees and 4-year degrees.

Make sure that you apply for the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) as soon as possible every year. The sooner you do, the more likely it will be that you’ll be awarded larger sums of money in the form of grants and loans.

The Not-So-Obvious Scholarship and Grant Resources

I compiled this list of scholarship and grant information specific to military spouses. There are a lot of opportunities available…and hey, I’ve already done the leg work for you!

Military One Source offers a page specifically for planning for and paying for military children’s higher education. Check it out and pay attention especially to the nuances for military children when it comes to the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

If you’re a veteran or your spouse is going back to school, there are many websites and lists that can help point you toward scholarships and grants exclusively for veterans and active duty.

Other Tips on Footing Your College Tuition Bill

If you know that a majority of funds for your education must come from scholarships and grants, start as early as possible. Scholarship opportunities are available year-round, so the perfect time to research is now. Keep a notebook or Word document of information and update as necessary so you have your own directory of upcoming opportunities that you qualify for.

And that brings me to another point: make sure that you do qualify for the scholarships you apply for. If you don’t fit the criteria, don’t waste your time or the judges’ time by trying to fit a round peg into a square hole. You will qualify for other scholarships and grants.

Many local scholarships cannot easily found online (or at all!). Approach the community groups and organizations that you are part of as a member or volunteer to see if you are eligible for any programs.

Often schools will offer scholarships and grants for certain students. These might be available at the beginning of enrollment if you qualify and are selected or they may be based on the merit of your work or extracurriculars as you continue through the degree program. (I earned scholarships every year I attended college—don’t forget to ask your advisor about degree-specific and college-specific programs. You don’t want to leave money on the table!)

Applying for grants and scholarships can be quite the endeavor. Stay organized by reading each opportunity’s timeline, requirements and deadline. Chart it on your calendar…and then get it done. Make sure that you follow all of their requirements and stipulations. And submitting on time is an absolute must! Often judging panels will disqualify potential recipients because their application packet doesn’t follow the directions or wasn’t turned in on time—it’s an easy way to winnow down the pool of applicants.

If your child is young, considering opening a 529 Plan. Many states and financial institutions offer them as a way to put aside long-term savings for a child’s education. It’s truly never too late to start, and saving for their college, either partially or entirely, will help your child start life as an adult with less or no debt: a true gift in this age.

Applying for scholarships and grants can be intimidating—especially if you’re heading back to school after a hiatus. However, it’s worth it to cast a wide net and work toward helping to relieve some of the financial burden that higher ed can place on a family’s budget.

Have your own tips about applying for financial aid opportunities? Let’s hear them in the comments!

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