Did You Know? The FAFSA Is Not the Only Way to Find Financial Aid Options Available to You.

Every year, families make a huge mistake during the college financial aid process by only relying on the federal government to award their child for the upcoming school year before taking other steps toward securing college funding.

I almost made this mistake, but fortunately, I found out that my state also had scholarship and grant programs that could cover most of my college expenses. Several state government programs award $1,500 to $25,000 per school year! Although I received the maximum grant amount available through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), my family still faced a significant financial burden. So, learning about this additional funding gave me hope.

Through this process, I learned that families should view completing the FAFSA as the starting point in their college funding journey rather than the destination. So, let’s dive in and maximize your college funding potential—shall we?

What is the FAFSA?

What is the FAFSA?

The FAFSA is a form that college students complete to determine their eligibility for undergraduate or graduate school financial aid. The U.S. Department of Education uses the FAFSA to determine a student’s eligibility for grants, such as the Federal Pell Grant, which does not need to be repaid, and various types of student loans, including Federal Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans.

The federal government also offers work-study programs that allow students to work part-time to earn money during their education. Fortunately, I received a $3,000 yearly work-study award for all four years of my undergraduate studies. This allowed me to have a secure on-campus job for four years, and take advantage of summer internships through the connections I made.

Understanding your options

Understanding your options

There are three levels of government: federal, state, and local. The government recognizes the impact financial aid has on a student’s ability to attend college and obtain a degree, and how it affects the future of the workforce and economy. To aid student success, each government body makes different efforts to support college enrollment, with everything from programs to funded scholarships.

As someone who received a full ride to my state university, here’s the breakdown of the government support I received:

  • Federal Government: $8,645
  • State Government: $13,500
  • Local Government: $1,000

State governments offer financial aid programs to residents pursuing higher education within the state. These programs may include need-based grants, merit-based scholarships, and tuition assistance programs. Some states also offer loan forgiveness or repayment assistance programs to incentivize students to pursue certain fields of study or work after graduation.

While local governments typically have less direct involvement in providing financial aid for college, they may support education through local scholarship programs funded by municipalities or community organizations. Local governments may also offer resources and support to local schools and colleges, indirectly contributing to educational opportunities for students in their communities.

Researching state funding opportunities

Researching state funding opportunities

With this knowledge, it’s time to start your own research. Each state offers assistance with unique eligibility requirements. Google is a great resource and starting point for getting answers tailored to your location and needs. Search “state of ____ college financial aid support,” and your state government site should appear with information on what funding and programs are available.

Keep in mind that most states require you to complete the FAFSA alongside a state scholarship program application to qualify for some of their college funding programs. Also, state governments’ scholarship and grant programs have varying FAFSA deadlines, often earlier than the federal deadline. I almost missed my state FAFSA deadline and left $13,500 on the table—so be sure to check your state’s deadlines.

Exploring local funding opportunities

There is additional free money that you can receive beyond the federal government. Local municipalities and community organizations are the most overlooked sources of college funding. They may offer scholarships and grants, along with college support programming embedded into community events. For example, when I was a high school senior, I received $1,000 for my community service projects and involvement in my local county. You can begin searching for local funding opportunities on the government website for your city or municipality.

You can also follow local government social media accounts and join community groups or forums where scholarship opportunities may be shared. Finally, reach out to your local representatives, such as city council members, to inquire about any available scholarships or grants they may offer or know about.

Finding outside scholarships

Finding outside scholarships

You can also find outside scholarships through school advisors. My school advisor informed me of a $6,000 scholarship from a small non-profit organization, which I received in the form of a refund check while in college. A strategic online search can also jumpstart your search for outside scholarships. Next time you’re online, try searching in specific, tailored terms, such as “scholarships for first generation” or “students in soccer.”

Looking ahead

In summary, here are the basic steps I took, which I want to share with you in the hopes that they will support your college funding journey.

  1. Complete the FAFSA as early as possible.
  2. Check your state government website for college grant and scholarship programs.
  3. Confirm your state’s FAFSA deadline.
  4. Apply for any state aid for which you may be eligible for.
  5. Check with your local government site and officials to inquire about local aid.

Remember, every step you take brings you closer to achieving your dreams. While the journey may have challenges, know you’re not alone. So many different resources are available, and with a little determination, you can navigate this path successfully. Keep moving forward, and soon, you’ll reach your destination, armed with the confidence to conquer any obstacles that may come your way. You’ve got this!


Which product best suits you?

Interested in building your credit?

Set sights on a brighter financial future by establishing a positive credit history easily and safely with Ambition Card.

Ambition Card by College Ave
Find My Application