By Unigo Planning to pay for college can be daunting: understanding financial aid programs, finding scholarships, and (most importantly) figuring out exactly how to combine financial resources and pay for everything. Where do you start? First things first, every senior in high school (and older students, too!) should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form should be completed again each year in college. Depending upon the your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), you may be offered federal, state, or institutional financial aid. Not all of the aid offered will be “free” money, though. Student loans and parent loans will need to be paid back. To keep your student debt to a minimum, we suggest trying to find free money for college in the following areas instead. Grants Grants are essentially “free money for college.” They are similar to scholarships and do not need to be paid back. The federal government, state educational offices, and colleges/universities may be able to offer you a grant. Grants are usually need-based (as identified by the FAFSA), but some grants may also be awarded in consideration of academic achievement when determining eligibility. Grants usually cover tuition, room and board, books, and fees. Scholarships Scholarships are one of the largest sources of free money for college. Unlike most grants, which are typically need-based, scholarships may be awarded for a variety of reasons, including merit (grades and test scores), need (financial circumstances and household income), talent (athletics, music, art, etc.), area of study (major or career track), service (volunteer work), membership (clubs and honor societies), and so much more! Scholarship funds may be sent directly to the student or to the college financial aid office. Most scholarships provide assistance with tuition, books, and fees — though some scholarship awards are unrestricted and can be used for any reason. Start applying for scholarships as early as ninth grade (and every year thereafter!). Finding scholarships is fairly simple, too, when you know where to look. You can locate information about local awards by checking with your high school guidance counselors, local businesses, and civic organizations. To locate state and national awards, use a time-saving, reliable, and free scholarship search service, like Unigo to quickly identify awards specific to your needs and skill-level. We suggest applying to a lot of scholarship programs, even those that require some work (essay, project, etc.) or have smaller award amounts, as these tend to get fewer applicants. Work-Study If you’ve been identified as having “need” per the FAFSA, you may be offered the opportunity to participate in work-study. Colleges place students in jobs on campus or at non-profit organizations off-campus, and they are paid an hourly wage. Students typically work 10-15 hours a week, with the money earned being used to help cover educational and living expenses. Other Ways to Find “Free” Money for College Some resourceful students may also be able to find sponsors to help cover college expenses. If you plan to go into veterinary medicine, law, or another professional career field, you could consider offering your time in exchange for tuition reimbursement. Some employers will agree to pay for tuition, books, and fees if the student maintains a specific grade point average and works a certain number of hours each week. Many states also provide loan forgiveness programs for those working in the public service sector. Once you have worked the agreed upon number of years (usually four or more), your remaining student loan debt may be paid off. There are many programs available to those who are willing to do the research and put in the effort. Take the time to see which programs could benefit you the most. A little bit of work now can really pay off in the long run.