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Show Me the Money

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Nobody’s perfect. We all have regrets— regrets about things we’ve done and regrets about things we wish we had done differently. As we look back on our lives, a lot of us wish we had followed a different path when it came to our education. Some people were given the chance to attend college yet opted not to take advantage of the opportunity, and others dropped out of school for various reasons but never returned.

You might be one of those people, but fear not – it’s never too late to go back to school.

Age no longer holds the stigma it once did on college campuses. More and more “adults” are attending college each year. In fact, a National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) report published in 2002 showed that “non-traditional students make up 73 percent of all students enrolled in undergraduate programs, and 39 percent of all undergraduate students are 25 years or older.”

If you’ve already made the decision to return to college or begin college, you’re probably already asking yourself one very important question: “How can I afford this?” Most likely, you’ll be able to receive some sort of financial aid.

Even though I went to college straight out of high school and earned a Bachelor’s degree at age 23, I was recently able to return to school as a non-traditional student thanks to financial aid in the form of federal student loans.

To put it simply, financial aid is money that is available to help students attend school. There are several different types of financial aid out there if you know where to look. You may be able to borrow money for school in the form of student loans – like I did. Loans are paid back with fees and interest. Federal student loans are backed by the government, but you may also be eligible for private student loans from various lending institutions.

Grants and scholarships are two other types of financial aid that do not need to be paid back. Some employers even offer tuition reimbursement or tuition matching programs for employees that decide to study something that is related to their current position at work, but that varies from company to company.

You should begin the procedure of looking for financial aid several months before you’d like to return to school, even if you have not yet decided which school you will be attending. Applying for financial aid is a separate procedure from applying for admission to a college or university, but keep in mind that if you need financial assistance as a student, you will need to have your financial aid situation in check regardless of where you will be attending classes.

In order to qualify for student loans and/or grants, you must fill out the current school year’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which is commonly called the FAFSA. You may be able to receive a paper copy of the FAFSA from the Financial Aid office at most schools, but filing your FAFSA electronically is a much easier method.

The FAFSA and information to help you complete it is available online at Fafsa.ed.gov and many colleges and universities have Financial Aid counselors who can assist you with your FAFSA.

In order to successfully fill out the FAFSA, you will need to have a few things. This includes your Social Security number and your driver’s license (if you have one). You will also need your and (your spouse’s, if you are married) W2 forms and records of money that you earned in the previous year, and the previous year’s income tax return. You may also need other information handy as well.

Scholarships are awarded by various groups, companies, individuals, or even by colleges themselves. You may be eligible for various scholarships for any number of reasons, including your previous academic history, your planned major, or even your gender or nationality. Search around – scholarships are out there! Flyers may be posted on college campuses or advertised on the internet. It doesn’t hurt to apply for scholarships. Who doesn’t want free money to go to school?

Once you have submitted your FAFSA and been accepted to a school, the school’s Financial Aid office will be able to tell you which financial aid programs you are eligible to receive. Your eligibility will vary based on many different factors – whether or not you’ve previously borrowed money to attend school and if you will be a part-time student or a full-time student, among other things.

And again, if you work, don’t forget to check with your employer to see if they offer any type of financial assistance for college. I worked at supermarket chain when I was in school the first time around, and they had a program which helped their employees who were studying marketing, management, and other business-related programs. It can’t hurt to ask!


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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