Regardless of the level of degree you’re seeking, applying to school is a daunting task. Whether it be requesting your transcripts, getting your recommendation letters or paying for your education, the process of submitting your application can be unsettling for many prospective students.
And while obtaining a post-secondary degree is a great way to advance your career and enhance your skill sets, finding the right funding can oftentimes be the biggest barrier of all. But, have no fear. Financial aid is more within reach than you think.
With the proper guidance, you can find creative solutions and innovative ways of becoming financially capable to achieve your academic goal. Follow these important “dos” and “don’ts” on finding the right financial aid – without breaking the bank.
Do Submit Your FAFSA
While loans might not be your ideal method to pay for school, it’s still important to submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). In fact, it’s highly probable that, regardless of your income, your university will require this documentation to offer low-interest loans and even possible federal grants. Plus, it can give you a better idea of where you stand financially speaking. Will you be able to take on a full load or will you need to go part-time? Will you need to ask for employer assistance? Will you need to get a loan? All of these questions can be answered once you’ve completed the FAFSA.
Do Aim for Employer Funding
Are you going back to school at your employer’s request? Could the skills you gain as a student make you more valuable as an employee? Employer funding may be a great option for you to explore. You might benefit from scheduling a formal meeting with your supervisor to discuss your career goals and how furthering your education could bring value to your organization. You can also consider chatting with your company’s human resources department to determine whether your organization assists employees returning to school — and whether you might be eligible. Many large corporations (and some small businesses) offer generous tuition assistance programs.
If your employer doesn’t have an official tuition reimbursement program, don’t give up. Consider submitting a formal proposal about your educational plans and discussing openly the various options you have, including the opportunity for assistance in a certificate program related to your profession; such programs are popular avenues for many working professionals looking to tailor their education without the extensive money and time commitment.
In your conversations with your manager, make sure to highlight your commitment to the company and past accomplishments in order to make it crystal clear that you’re worth the investment.
Do Seek Out Scholarships
Scholarships aren’t just for a lucky few. New scholarships pop up all the time and often unexpectedly. Regardless of where you live or what you plan to study, continue to pursue all avenues using your recent accomplishments, GPA, and work experience to demonstrate why you should be selected for a scholarship.
There are countless resources available to find scholarships for your degree program. Use online tools like Scholarships.com and CareerOneStop to discover scholarships based on your academic interests. Unlike grants, scholarships can be on a rolling basis but that doesn’t mean you should wait. Applying early can be the best way for you to be considered one of the top candidates for a specific award.
Financial aid is well within reach— ensure you understand the best practices of securing financial aid for your degree program.
Don’t Take Out Loans Right Away
For many of us, loans seem like the easiest way to get the funds you need to get started right away. However, if you’re not careful, you can find yourself paying extremely high-interest rates or even getting in trouble with your loan providers after completing your degree. In a study conducted by the Pew Research Center, young college graduates with student loans are 22% more likely than those without loans to report struggling financially. On top of this, the average interest rate for undergraduate direct loans is about 4.99% and about 6.54% for graduate students.
Think about your financial situation as it stands today. If you can avoid some loans, it might be in your best interest to seek other forms of financial aid. If you can’t avoid them, make sure to consult with a financial advisor to talk about your options.
Don’t Accept Unofficial Handouts Or Schemes
It should come as no surprise that online schemes and gimmicks are lurking on the internet. Using phrases like “Buy now or miss this opportunity” and “We guarantee you’ll get aid” are simple, yet effective ways for identity theft scammers to facilitate easy payouts or even gain access to your personal information from just the click of a button.
According to the Federal Student Aid office, several websites will offer various types of help including filling out the FAFSA form for a fee or identifying themselves as consultants on behalf of the U.S. Department of Education. Don’t be fooled. These sites are not affiliated with or endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education and should not be trusted.
If you happen to run into any issues or schemes, protect yourself and other students by reporting them to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Don’t Share Your Private Financial Information
As you begin to fill out your financial aid documents, you will be asked to provide confidential information including your social security number, home address, and even bank account number. While many of these systems have secure softwares and firewalls, it is important to keep your information in a safe place on your computer or in a notebook. Keep it away from anyone you don’t trust, including strangers, coworkers or other peers. A leak in your confidential information can be shared on the internet and result in identity theft, which is a criminal offense. If you happen to notice that your information has been stolen, contact the Federal Trade Commission.
Navigating financial aid can feel overwhelming. Without proper guidance, you can find yourself in some reasons issues like identity theft and high-interest loans. Luckily, ACU Online is here to help! For more information on how ACU Online can help you pursue your career goals, contact us at 855-219-7300 or acu.edu/online.