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College Isn't as Unaffordable as You May Think

There are plenty of valid reasons not to go to college, but money is certainly not one of them. There are literally hundreds of thousands of scholarships out there, as well as federal grant programs which are essentially free money to go to school. If you still need more, there are work-study and student loan programs in place that can fulfill your financial need. Here's a quick guide to get you started on your journey.

Photo: flickr/401(k) 2012

Scholarships and grants
When it comes to scholarships and grants, you may need to get a little creative, but make sure you look into the more common programs first.

Make sure you fill out a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid); even if you are convinced you won't qualify for anything. This makes you eligible for student loan programs, as well as the grant programs run by the government like the Federal Pell Grant, which is need-based and awards up to a maximum of $5,730 for the 2014-15 school year.

There are other federal grant programs as well, such as the FSEOG, which can be a supplement to a Pell Grant for students who have the highest financial need, or the TEACH Grant, which provides $4,000 annually for students going into a teaching career. In addition, your institution's financial aid office may have a list of grants which are specific to your school.

There are also many scholarships available for virtually every background, field of study, and student type you can think of. Spend some time investigating these, and a good place to start is the scholarship directory kept by Fastweb.

Work-study programs
The Federal Work-Study program is designed to provide part-time employment opportunities for students with financial need, in order to help finance their education.

Basically, the program is designed to allow colleges and universities to create more jobs for students than they normally would be able to. The school only pays half of the student-employee's wages, with the work-study program paying the rest. Qualification for work-study is based on the FAFSA, just like federal grants and loans, and you can find out more information here.

Student loans
Student loans have gotten a bad reputation lately simply because of the sheer volume of debt students have taken out, but I'm not so sure it's as bad as it seems. Recent data indicates there is a total of $1.2 trillion in U.S. student loan debt, and the average 2012 graduate (the most recent year where there's data) carries a debt loan of $29,400. Sounds like a lot, huh?

It does, until you consider the tremendous difference in earning power a college degree buys you. The average worker with just a high school diploma will earn $1.3 million during his/her career, as compared with $2.3 million for workers with a bachelor's degree and $2.7 million for workers with a master's, according to a Georgetown University study (link opens PDF). When you look at it like this, it seems like a small investment to finance about $30,000 for an education if you can earn an extra million dollars with it. As my fellow writer Patrick Morris eloquently said in his discussion on college return on investment (ROI), "the only thing more expensive than going to college is actually not attending."

Student loans should still be used wisely. Make sure you have exhausted all of your "free money" options, and borrow only what is necessary to fund your education.

Do your homework!
This is by no means an exhaustive list, as there are far too many ways to get help paying for your education than can fit into one article. However, that's the point here.

The bottom line is if you really want to go to college, there is absolutely no reason money should stop you. Enough making excuses...start visiting schools and figure out where you want to go!

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Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2014, at 5:38 PM, JohanStrauss wrote:

    I got *paid* to go "back to school". +$25,000 tax-free. And all I had to do is spend four years in the armored cav. (btw, I'm covered by the VA for heqlthcare, too...can't beat $0/month and $0 deductible. Thanks, taxpayers!)

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Matthew Frankel

Matt brought his love of teaching and investing to the Fool in order to help people invest better, after several years as a math teacher. Matt specializes in writing about the best opportunities in bank stocks, real estate, and personal finance, but loves any investment at the right price. Follow me on Twitter to keep up with all of the best financial coverage!

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