The rapid rise in the cost of higher education may interrupt many people’s learning and career goals. National Grants Month, which takes place in November each year, aims to change that.
Education debt is the fastest growing category of debt in America today, and as of 2020, the average debt owes about $38,000 in student loans. It is therefore not surprising that many people think twice before pursuing their further education and career goals.
It is unfortunate, because the increasing demands of a rapidly changing workforce makes it imperative for workers to re-skill and hone their skills to unprecedented levels. Earning an additional degree or industry certification can be a powerful step for your career — boosting your value to employers, your earning potential and perhaps even your job satisfaction.
Although individuals already in the workforce are often overlooked, scholarships are one way to complete your program without bankrupting your future. “Scholarships can bring significant financial relief to students who are looking for ways to bridge these funding gaps,” says Aidan Berkey, founder of Access Scholarships, a search for free scholarships and resources online. “By taking the time to learn about and apply for scholarships, students can reduce the school’s financial burden and graduate with less debt.”
Berkey, who offers free hours by appointment every Friday and recently launched a free webinar for students and families on various financial and higher topics, believes that one of the biggest barriers to students pursuing higher education is the cost of doing so. “For this reason, my primary mission is to provide access to scholarships and college resources to all students who desire and need them,” she says.
The National Association of Scholarship Providers (NSPA) reports that over the past 10 years, the number of scholarships awarded has increased by more than 45%. However, an estimated $100 million in scholarship money still goes without endorsement each year, mostly due to a lack of applicants.
As we enter National Scholarship Month in November, there has never been a better time to raise awareness about the myriad of scholarship opportunities available to apply.
Debunk Scholarship Myths
So this all sounds great, you guess — but if I’m already in the workforce, do I really qualify for any of this free money? The answer is yes. One of the biggest misconceptions about this type of educational funding is the idea that scholarships are only available to high school students. Another myth is that scholarship applicants always need to be able to demonstrate a certain level of financial need in order to be considered.
The truth is that scholarships exist in all fields, including for students pursuing graduate degrees and technical degrees. Eligibility requirements also vary greatly, with opportunities based on merit, need, and everything in between.
So why aren’t more people applying for scholarships? “The application process can be intimidating, time-consuming, and often filled with rejection,” Berkey says. She advises potential applicants to tone down the experience, stay organized, and try to get feedback on their rejected applications so that they can submit stronger applications in the future.
5 Tips for Financing Your Additional Education
For people who are thinking about taking the leap but aren’t sure if it’s financially feasible, here are five tips to help you get through the process and get rid of as little debt as possible.
1.) Follow up on grants and fellowships. Because scholarships are free money, they must be sought before loans.
2.) Look into your employer’s educational assistance or learning and development programs. Many companies now offer at least partial tuition assistance or training opportunities to their workforce. I’ve previously shared the story of Megan, who completed her bachelor’s degree without debt while working as a welder and took advantage of her employer’s tuition assistance program. You never know what’s possible until you ask.
3.) FAFSA file. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a no-brainer for graduate students to fund further education. The NSPA estimates that during the 2018-19 academic year alone, about $2.6 billion in Pell Grants was left unclaimed.
4.) Use the net price calculators before committing. The net price calculator compares tuition and other fees for the schools you’re interested in. There is often a significant difference between the school’s “sticker price” and the “net price”. The poster price refers to the number that most schools list on their website and brochures (most students do not pay the poster price). The net price, on the other hand, is the number you actually pay once scholarships, grants, and financial aid are taken into account. The difference between the net price and the sticker price is most noticeable in private universities (which tend to put more effort into meeting students. Unmet financial need), while in public universities, the net price may sometimes be closer to the sticker price.
5.) If you must borrow, do your research. Not all student loans are created equal. Find and compare loan options to get the best rates. In general, federal loans are still the best place to start, and your FAFSA is the first step in that direction. There are also decent private loans available if you need to borrow other than your federal loans.
Despite the high price tag of most higher education, there are still ways to make this possible. $100 million in unclaimed scholarship money each year is one of them. In November, celebrate National Scholarship Month by taking a look at scholarship opportunities that can help advance your career. It can’t hurt — and it can make a huge difference to your education and career journey.