It’s no secret that college comes with a hefty price tag. Every year, students and their families have to figure out how they’re going to pay thousands of dollars in school bills. While high-income families may have the resources to pay tuition, footing the entire bill just isn’t realistic for some families, especially if they have more than one child attending college. This is why many students rely on financial aid to fund their education.
It’s generally known that students from lower-income families can qualify for special scholarships and grants that help fill the gap to fund their education, but for families around the middle-income tier, financial aid options may be harder to come by and make them feel that their options are limited. Rest assured that there are options for middle-class families to receive the financial assistance they need – it just may take a bit more effort.
When it comes to looking for financial aid for college, the FAFSA is a great place to start. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid has no income cutoff for eligibility, so your child could still receive some need-based aid from the FAFSA, especially if he or she plans on enrolling at a higher-cost school. The FAFSA opens October 1 every year, and you can apply as early as the year prior to your child’s first day of college. The earlier you apply, the more likely your child is to receive financial aid.
Researching and applying for scholarships has continually proven itself worthy of the effort. Many scholarships are merit-based instead of need-based, so your child may be eligible for many different scholarships depending on the qualifications. Start by looking for local scholarships – many locally-owned businesses and organizations offer scholarships for graduating high school students. If your child visits the school guidance office, they may have some applications on file. You or your spouse could also ask your employer if they offer any type of scholarships or financial aid for employees’ children. After exhausting local options, your child may want to research national opportunities. A quick web search could reveal countless free scholarships – Niche, Fastweb, and eCampusTours are a good place to start. Finally, many colleges offer merit-based scholarships and endowment scholarships. Make sure your child looks for institutional scholarships at the school he or she plans to attend. You may discover that if your child joins a club or raises a standardized test score by a couple of points, he or she could receive thousands more dollars of financial aid.
If a family member, such as a parent or grandparent attended the same college or university you’re enrolled in, you may receive a tuition discount. There may be additional requirements to qualifying for this discount, such as, your family member being active in the school’s alumni association or maintaining a certain GPA.
Middle-income families are perfectly positioned to receive tax credits for college expenditures. For example, the Lifetime Learning credit has income requirements that exclude those who earn over and under certain amounts. Programs like this, as well as tuition savings plans, offer a few different ways for middle-income families to receive tax benefits.
If you’ve taken advantage of all your financial aid options and find you still have more to pay, it may be time to consider loans. Non-need based federal loans such as the Unsubsidized Federal Stafford Loan for students and the Federal PLUS Loan for parents can bridge whatever gap you find in your aid and your expenses. Federal education loans generally have low interest rates or may be tax-deductible, so they’re a smart alternative to using a credit card, for example.
You may find that you still need financial assistance after exhausting all the options above. If that’s the case, private student loans may be for you. We always recommend you take advantage of grants, scholarships, and federal aid before taking out a private student loan. To learn more about ELFI’s private student loan options,* click here.
The cost of college can present a challenge for families at all income levels, but middle-income families often struggle the most to find good financial aid options because their finances fall between affording college and needing assistance. If your family is in this situation, don’t let it get you down. The options in this article are a good place to start searching for financial assistance. Don’t lose sight of the end goal – getting the degree you want and establishing a successful career. If you’re already looking for financial aid options, you’re well on your way.
*Subject to credit approval. Terms and conditions apply.
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