As college costs skyrocket, financial aid can make all the difference.

Yet many families mistakenly assume they won’t qualify and don’t even bother to apply.

Each year, over 1.7 million private scholarships are awarded, worth over $ 7.4 billion. Your family’s income shouldn’t stand in the way.

In fact, eligibility for such assistance is often not income-based at all.

Merit aid

For starters, there are many types of merit scholarship available for athletes, minorities, and students in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs. According to James Lewis, co-founder of the Atlanta-based National Society of High School Scholars, or NSHSS, there is also support for community service volunteers or grants based on leadership skills, musical ability, or religious affiliation. .

And more obscure offers are there to help cover the costs. For example, first-year students who meet certain height requirements might be eligible for a scholarship from the International Foundation of Major Clubs. (Here are some other unusual scholarships currently available.)

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Lewis advises students to seek scholarships locally, especially from organizations in their community, where the odds of getting a prize are better than national competitions.

“Research your network,” he said, including “the high school, honor societies, alumni networks, civic groups, employers and places of worship.”

“Make Google your best friend.”

Free research sites, such as Tuition Funding Sources, can help students find this most desirable type of help – money that doesn’t have to be repaid.

Some families seize it. This year, scholarships and grants were the single most used resource to foot an undergraduate student’s bill, according to the most recent report from education lender Sallie Mae.

Need-based help

Aside from merit assistance, even high-income families may still be eligible for needs-based assistance.

“It’s a mistake to assume you are not eligible,” said Kalman Chany, financial aid consultant and author of Princeton Review’s “Paying for College”.

It is wrong to assume that you are ineligible.

Kalman Chany

financial aid counselor

For example, a school may not take into account the income of a non-custodial parent, even if it exceeds $ 400,000 or $ 500,000, Chany said. “If you are divorced and the parent does not have custody, they can only see the information of the other parent.”

The determination of student aid is not just limited to income and savings, such as the cost of attending school or the number of college-age siblings.

“Some schools will give you money on a need basis even if you don’t demonstrate the need because they get price resistance,” Chany said.

And if your family has two kids enrolled in college, it’s like dividing the parents’ income by two, he added.

File the FAFSA

To access this assistance, students must complete a Free Federal Student Assistance Application Form, which serves as a Gateway to all federal money, including loans, work-study programs and bursaries.

High school graduates in 2017 missed $ 2.3 billion in federal grants because they didn’t meet the FAFSA at all, according to an analysis from the personal finance website NerdWallet.

Among those who did not apply, most said it was because they didn’t think they would qualify.

Jennifer Satalino, financial aid expert with Educational Credit Management Corp., a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping student borrowers, advises all students to submit documents. “It can really pay off,” she said.

“Students and parents will still be eligible for certain types of financial aid.”

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