This post comes from Brandon Ballenger at partner site Money Talks News.
The average annual cost to attend a four-year public college is $8,244, says the College Board. For out-of-state students, that number more than doubles ($20,770), and for private schools, it triples ($28,500). And that's just tuition.
While many believe college will pay for itself later through higher salaries, there's no reason to take on loans and years of debt. Instead, search out as much free money as possible. In the video below, Stacy Johnson interviews Harvard grad Ben Kaplan, who won two dozen scholarships totaling $90,000. Find out how he did it, then read on to learn how you can too.
This is the kind of advice I could've used heading into college. I had a state scholarship that covered 75% of my tuition for four years. But it wasn't until senior year that I realized I could've had a full ride and saved myself thousands more. I just assumed I wasn't eligible.
Don't make the same mistake. Instead, follow these tips:
Some of them have such weirdly specific criteria that you might win just by being the only person crazy enough to apply. For instance, there's a scholarship for Catholics named Zolp. (Name changes won't work.)
Try some of these:
- College Answer
- Scholarship America
Also check with the financial aid department of any school you might apply to, or even ones you don't apply to. Some, like Harvard, have dedicated Web pages for scholarships available only to their students. But many schools list scholarships that any student attending any school can apply for.
Wherever you look for scholarship money online, remember that you should never pay anything. Don't fall for scholarship application fees, matching services, or other such come-ons. Not all places that charge are rip-offs, but many are, and there's no need to take risks with so many free resources at your fingertips.
While plagiarism is a no-no, you can't plagiarize yourself. Save time by keeping documents you can copy and paste from, and use your Web browser's auto-complete feature so you don't have to type in your contact info a billion times. Just make sure to double-check everything.
Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid at the start of every year so your school knows you're still interested in grants and other financial aid. Do it early in the spring semester. Need-based aid such as federal Pell grants is often first-come, first-served.
You could also try applying to some of the cheapest schools in the country, or the tuition-free schools named in this Businessweek article. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's new comparison shopping tool might also help.
If you need more money, you'll probably have to turn to student loans. While their interest rates are relatively low compared with most other types -- 3.4% for subsidized undergraduate loans -- it's still easy to rack up a mountain of debt.
More on Money Talks News and MSN Money:
- 5 things to consider when choosing colleges
- 8 tips for veterans going back to school
- Struggling with student loans? What to do
- How much should I be saving for college?
- Try the 50-30-20 budget
- Should you pay for kid's college?