Getting a college education opens doors to previously inaccessible opportunities. But at an average cost of $35,000 in tuition, books, and living expenses per year, college also remains a pipe dream for many. ‘How to afford college’ is a question many students ask themselves, and unfortunately, there ends their dream of getting a college degree.
Amy Adkins-Dwivedi, Founder of #1 Premiere Continuing Education, was one such student. Coming from a family surviving on less than $30,000 for a family of five, Amy didn’t have any savings for college. To her, it made no difference if the cost was $500 a quarter or $50,000 a quarter – with no funds, the barrier was still the same. Yet, today Amy holds a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (Registered Nursing/Registered Nurse) from the University of Cincinnati and a Master’s degree (Pediatric Nurse/Nursing) from Ohio State University.
How did she become a first-generation college graduate, despite the lack of money? In this article, we feature some of Amy’s tips on how to make college more affordable through college scholarships and grants, and how she even ended up receiving more than she needed to make ends meet.
Apply for Federal Student Aid Programs through FAFSA
There is a lot of information out there about the best federal student loans and the best student loan programs, but loans are just one way to pay for a college education. Federal student aid programs are designed to make college more accessible to students who are financially unable to afford the high fees and associated costs.
Start by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) to apply for financial aid. The application form can be tedious and complicated to fill out, but there are resources available online to help. By filling out the FAFSA, Amy was able to get a Federal Pell Grant which is offered to low-income undergraduates. The funding from the Pell Grant paid for over half of Amy’s school expenses, but she had to get creative to find funds for the rest.
Explore Scholarships for College Students
Doing some research, Amy found out about some college scholarships that she was eligible for. The first scholarship she was given was for women and minorities, and by the second quarter of her first year, she had it converted to a full-ride scholarship. This scholarship fully paid for her tuition and books. As part of the scholarship, Amy was also provided with a co-op position that she worked every other term. Co-ops are typically full-time, paid positions, and doing them every other term if your college offers it, is a great way to make some money while also getting first-hand experience in your field of study.
Two years after starting college, Amy earned her associate’s degree in chemical engineering but decided she didn’t want to pursue a bachelor’s in the same field. She decided to switch to nursing instead, and as a result, lost her scholarship because it was associated with her degree program.
Starting her junior year in college, Amy applied for and received several other scholarships that each paid a few hundred dollars to cover some of the remaining tuition costs that was not covered by the Pell grant.
With the cost of college at an all-time high, just one grant or scholarship may not be enough to cover all the associated costs. Scholarship stacking, or combining multiple scholarships, as Amy did, is one way of ensuring that your financial needs are taken care of. How to get scholarships for college is simply a matter of doing your research and persistently applying for different relevant ones.
Ask About Tuition Reimbursement when Applying for Jobs
College students may also consider finding a job that offers tuition reimbursement as an employee benefit. In Amy’s case, she found a part-time position as a nurse aide that included tuition reimbursement. By achieving passing grades in all her courses, she was able to get reimbursed for the small amount she paid in tuition each term. This, coupled with the grants and other scholarships she had, ensured that Amy’s tuition for the last two years of college was completely paid for. If you are wondering how to afford college, this is an option to consider.
Investigate Other Options to Pay for Grad School
Beyond the opportunities for funding such as grants and scholarships, other options are available for students considering further studies in graduate school. One thing to keep in mind is that graduate-level education is often much more expensive than undergraduate programs, with costs sometimes running more than $100,000 for a 2-year program.
If you have been accepted into a graduate program, consulting with your advisor is the first step to resolving any financial needs you may have. By being upfront with your advisor about not being able to afford grad school, you open up the conversation for them to extend a helping hand or put you in touch with organizations or programs that can.
Amy’s journey was similar. Her advisor was able to connect her with faculty members in other colleges who eventually found her a fellowship that was part of a federal government training program. This fellowship not only provided Amy with additional training to work with children with neurodevelopmental disabilities, but also focused on leadership in the community as a professional. Amy managed to pay for an entire year of school with this fellowship, received useful training in her field of interest, and was even given a stipend of $1000 a month for living expenses.
During the summer, Amy was again faced with a lack of funds to pay for school. This time, Amy tapped into her network by reaching out to her advisor and other people within her college to let them know she was looking for funding. By being humble yet persistent and determined, Amy found a graduate teaching assistant (TA) position thanks to her background in science and tutoring as an undergrad. This opportunity paid for her final year in the graduate program and her monthly living expenses for that year and helped her establish long-lasting relationships with faculty members that she still maintains.
In the seven years that Amy took to graduate from both undergrad and graduate school, she had received more money between scholarships, grants, tuition reimbursement, a fellowship and the graduate teaching assistant position than her college tuition ended up costing. Taking student loans is not the only option if you are interested in further education but don’t have the funds to spare. With creativity and tenacity, as well as the willingness to do whatever it takes to find a way to pay for college, you could be on your way to getting paid to study.