Another non-loan way to cover the cost of college is work-study. Here the recipient works a part-time job in exchange for college expenses. The work is paid by the hour. The employer, typically the school, must allow for a flexible schedule so as not to interfere with school responsibilities. The program encourages community service work and work related to the recipient's course of study.
The best form of financial aid for college is the grant. This is money that, unlike a loan, you never have to pay back.
The most common federal grant for higher education is the Pell Grant. It's available only to undergraduate students who haven't earned a degree. In order to get one, a family must demonstrate financial need, based on their income and assets, and on the cost of the school to be attended.
There's a limited amount of Pell Grant money available to each borrower. For
the 2008-09 school year, the maximum award is $4,731. This figure changes from
year to year, based on government funding for the program.
If you are awarded a Pell Grant, it will be applied to your school bill or you will be given a check, at least twice each school year.
If your financial need is particularly high, you might qualify for an additional grant, the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG). These are given to supplement Pell Grants given to recipients with the lowest expected family income.
These grants range from $100 to $4,000 a year. Like Pell Grants, they're credited to your account or paid to you directly.
The Academic Competitiveness Grant was made available to first-year college students for the first time for the 2006-2007 school year. It provides $750 for the first year of study and $1,300 for the second year. It's available to Pell Grant recipients who have completed a qualifying academic program in high school. Check with your high school's counseling office to find out if they offer one.
The National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent Grant, also called the SMART Grant, is available for math, science and technology majors in their third and fourth years of undergraduate school. Recipients need to enroll in pre-approved classes and maintain a grade average of a B or better, and to be receiving a Pell Grant. It provides up to $4,000 a year.
If a student is interested in teaching as a career after college, a TEACH Grant could be the right way to go. A recipient must agree to work as a full-time teacher at a school that serves low-income students for at least four years. You also have to score high on a college admissions test or maintain a grade point average of at least 3.25.