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4 ways to fund a 4-year college degree

Dropping coins in a piggy bank won’t be enough to fund college. Strategies should include a savings account, scholarship and loan applications and possibly a job.

Paying for college can require planning and preparation. A number of options exist for parents and students seeking a post-secondary degree. Costs can range anywhere from about about $40,000 for a moderately priced state-level institution to $120,000 for a private university. A number of funding sources offer opportunities to subsidize and possibly even completely fund a college education. Here are four common financial resources:

1. Federal aid, including Pell grants

Federal aid does not require a student to pay back funds after graduation. Eligibility depends on financial need. Other federal aid programs offered include an Academic Competitiveness Grant (ACG ) based on merit as well as financial need and the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG). The two most important components of obtaining these source of funding are completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and paying attention to the deadlines. For FAFSA, the window of application is Jan. 1 to July 1 of each school year; however, schools prioritize the earliest applicants for allocations.

2. Loans

Loans can be obtained either through private means or federal programs and must be paid back with interest by the graduate. These loans come with a coverage guarantee by the federal government. The most common are Federal Stafford Loans, which have low interest rates and offer flexibility in repayment. An institution also might participate in the Direct Loan Program (DLP). The federal government pays the interest on the DLP loan as a student attends school. Because of the assistance aspect, participation is based on financial need. The Federal Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students (PLUS) lets parents borrow federally guaranteed funding for their students.

3. Scholarships

Scholarships are based on a number of criteria, including financial need, demographics, merit, interests and fields of study. From one-time disbursements to continuing awards based on re-application requirements, such aid requires research and attention to deadlines. Free resources to help students find scholarships include school counselors, the U.S. Department of Labor, a state grant agency, libraries and community organizations.

4. Work-study programs

A federal work-study program operates in tandem with the school’s financial aid office and requires determination of financial eligibility. Students should first seek an on-campus job (avoid exceeding 15-20 work hours per week.) Other good options are jobs in retail or food service during the school year and those that compliment studies or career choices during the summer. Effectively applying work funds to one’s college budget requires diligent deposits into accounts used to pay school expenses and spending discipline.

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