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Financial Aid for the Returning Student

Grants are usually free money. One of the most widely known federal grants is the Pell Grant. This grant currently pays between $400.00 and $3,750.00 per year, depending on your calculated need. Another federally funded grant is the Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant (SEOG). This grant is part of the campus based aid awarded by your school and funded by the federal Title IV program with a match from your school. It is intended for students with exceptional financial need. Awards can run between $100.00 and $4,000.00.

Another component to the federal Title IV aid program is the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFEL). This program includes Stafford loans or Direct student loans. These loans are subsidized or unsubsidized loans, depending on your level of need. The federal government pays the interest on a subsidized loan while you are in school as well as during a grace period of six months after graduation and during any authorized deferment periods.

The subsidized Stafford loan is available up to your calculated level of need and the cost of attendance at your school. There are also limits based on your academic level. For example, a first year undergraduate can only borrow $2,625.00 in subsidized loans. The amount increases to $3,500.00 for a second year student and to $5,500.00 and up in the third year and beyond.

Unsubsidized loan amounts are the difference between the amount of subsidized Stafford loan eligibility and the Stafford loan limit for the academic level. The limit on the unsubsidized loan is $4,000.00 for a first and second year student and $5,000.00 for the third, fourth and fifth year student.

There are also aggregate limits on all of the loans as well. A dependent student may only borrow a maximum of $23,000.00 and an independent student is allowed $46,000.00. No more than $23,000.00 may be subsidized for either category. A graduate or professional student may borrow a total of $138,000.00 with no more than $65,500 of that subsidized.

Loans must be repaid and a student should make it a point to know when and how. It is helpful to calculate your expected salary and budget after graduation to enable you to determine the amount of loan money to accept. These loans are relatively easy to obtain and it is important to remember you are obligating yourself to repay this money in the future. This future debt. could become a huge burden on your anticipated salary in a new field of work.

Scholarships are often free money also but some can become loans if certain obligations aren't fulfilled. Know the details of any scholarships you accept.

Most states also have some need based aid and it is important to apply early to be considered for these often limited funds. Deadlines are listed on the FAFSA for each state's aid program.

Federal and institutional work study programs allow a student to work while attending school. These jobs are usually at the school or a nearby community service office. In addition to providing additional funding for school they sometimes offer practical experience in a chosen field of study as well.

Call your Financial Aid Officer if you need clarification on any items awarded. Your award letter should include guidelines and procedures on receiving any of the aid offered. It should also clearly state any special obligations on your part.

What if you are turned down for aid or the aid offered isn't enough? The first step is to talk to the Financial Aid Counselor at the school you wish to attend. Ask about outside sources of aid or ideas of ways to finance your education. This person is a valuable contact who can advise you on other avenues of aid to pursue on your own if she has nothing more to offer directly.

What if your financial circumstances have changed from the base year reported on the application? Maybe you have lost your job or had a spouse die. Again, call the financial aid office and let them know. Most schools will take your change in circumstances into consideration and possibly find you eligible for aid based on your current year information. Also tell them about any other unusual expenses you have that others may not, such as unusually high medical expenses or private school tuition for a child. Sometimes this can make a difference.

The Hope and Lifetime Learning tax credits can offer some help with expenses when you file your taxes. These are programs that allow a family who earns between $40,000 and $80,000 to claim a credit against tax liability. Although this assistance isn't available up front it is still an excellent source of aid.

Check on your own for aid in your community. There are many agencies that fund a return to school. It is a good idea to contact your employment security commission for possible retraining programs. The Vocational Rehabilitation office can also often help in situations where you must retrain for another line of work. Try womens' or family resource offices or well known charities in the area. Many of these fund educational endeavors. Even your church may have funds available. Conduct a scholarship search on the World Wide Web. Most of these are national and therefore will be more competitive but worthwhile to investigate.

If all else fails consider starting school by taking one class and paying for it yourself. Once you are attending the school of your choice you may learn of special funding programs or become eligible for scholarships as a current student that were not open to you before enrollment. If you want a college education badly enough you can find a way to make it happen. Focus on each task as it comes and before you know it you will have achieved your goal of finding financial assistance to fund your life as a college student.

Elizabeth Solazzo is employed in the student financial aid office at a community college where she spends her days working with many adult students helping them find aid for their college education. Read about her own journey in returning to school.

Additional Resources:
Scholarships for Re-entry Students.
Grants and retraining assistance for adults returning to college.

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