Looking into grants or scholarships is probably the most common avenue explored when it comes to paying for education. When you are searching for scholarships for women over 40, it can also be the most frustrating. With the overabundance of information out there, it’s hard to decipher what is fact and what is fiction, and some basic and clearly stated information can be incredibly helpful in the search.
Been There, Done That, Why Go Back to School?
The national unemployment rate has been fluctuating between 7% and 9%, and the unemployment rate for women, specifically, was at 7.9% in April 2011. That means that eight out of every 100 working women are out of a job, and it stands to reason that many of the unemployed fall into the over 40 category. It is no small wonder that many women are looking for other career solutions that may require additional education.
Perhaps you are a woman on the verge of a fabulous career, but you just need that little bit of an edge on the competition and are ready to pursue a graduate program to catapult you to the top of the promotion pool.
Another common reason that so many women over 40 are seeing to further their education is that now they have the time. Many women are reaching the age where their children are grown enough that they can now take their own dreams and goals into account when making plans for their future.
It could also be that perhaps some women are just now discovering what it is that they excel at, that they have finally discovered their passion and are ready to change the course of their life for the better!
With all of these scenarios in mind, the question of funding these educational goals is a major concern for these ladies, and possibly for you too.
The Difference between Grants, Scholarships and Loans
A little research and determination can go a long way in the search for funding. Starting with a little web research is a great way to see what types of alternatives are out there. Let’s take a look at some of the basic types of funding:
- Educational grants are funds provided by the government in order to help prospective or current students try and absorb some of the extremely high costs of college tuition and other expenses related to attending college. This money is provided by the government, with your tax dollars and does not need to be repaid. Grants usually pay, miscellaneous personal expenses, living expenses such as room and board, tuition and fees, books, supplies, transportation, and an allowance for costs expected to be incurred for dependent care for a student with dependents.
- Scholarships are generally offered by colleges and universities, charities, private parties, not-for-profits, and for profit organizations. Scholarships are given to the recipient as a gift, generally based upon some sort of qualifying criteria, contest or application process.
- Loans are generally a necessary part of the package when getting ready to further your education. Very few scholarships pay for the entire cost of a college education. Loans are based upon an application process and must be entered into with the understanding that the monies borrowed, must be paid back.
Show Me the Money
Now that you know the different types of financial assistance out there, you’re probably wondering where you can find out more information. The world-wide-web is just full of websites claiming to have all the answers to your financial woes, and insisting that money is out there just waiting to be thrown at you. It takes a lot of time to sift through the “not-so-great” resources and find that needle in the haystack. In the following sections you will find some legitimate resources that will have you well on your way to securing financing for your future.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid website, or FAFSA, is a great place to start when researching your financial options for college. Programs funded through this office are federal student aid programs. FAFSA is under the authority of Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965.
These programs include:
- Pell Grants: Pell grants are the heavyweights of the need-based financial aid programs. The program serves mostly the low and middle income undergraduate population and the award amounts are directly affected by the financial circumstances of both the student and their immediate family.
- Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG) Some schools will award these grants to students who are in dire need, as long as the funds are available.
- Academic Competitiveness Grants (ACG) Pell Grant: This grant is awarded to students who excelled academically in high school while taking a rigorous program of study and is available to first and second-year undergrads.
- National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent (National SMART) is available to third, fourth and fifth year undergrads. The students must major in physical, life or computer sciences, math, technology, foreign languages or engineering in order to be eligible for this Pell grant.
- Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grants (TEACH): If a student plans to complete a degree that prepares them for a career in teaching, they may be eligible for this grant. One of the requirements is that the student sign an “Agreement to Serve” as a full-time teacher under specific conditions set forth in the agreement.
- Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership (LEAP) and Special LEAP (SLEAP): These grants are a cooperative effort between federal and state, and as such, each state may have its own eligibility requirements. However, the one requirement that remains across the board is that they are need-based grants.
- Federal Student Aid Loans: There are several different options when it comes to federal student aid loans. Some loans are the sole responsibility of the student, such as the Stafford Loans, while other, larger loans such as the PLUS loan are the responsibility of the parents. Generally these loan payments are deferred until 6 months after the student has either graduated, or has dropped out of school.
- Federal Student Aid Work-Study: If a student is willing to work during their enrollment at a college, the work-study program may be available. Again, award amounts are based upon need, and various other factors.
- New Educational Opportunities for Unemployed Workers: A brand new program implemented by our president, is dedicated to furthering the education of our unemployed work-force. You must be currently unemployed in order to be eligible. More eligibility information can be found about this program at http://federalstudentaid.ed.gov/
College scholarship amounts are as varied as the processes for obtaining them and they can come from just about anywhere. Companies, colleges, foundations and organizations are just some of the sources of scholarship monies.
Some scholarship entry applications are funny, some are serious, and some are downright crazy. The one’s to focus on are the scholarships that mean something to you. Do you like to write? Then there are essay scholarships that would be right up your ally. If you are aiming for a certain career, there are sure to be scholarships that are available for your specific career path. Even your nationality can come into play, or the history of your ancestors. It’s amazing how much information and money is out there if you just know where to look. There are several websites out that that collect scholarship information and have created sort of a one-stop-shop for scholarship research.
Student Loans and Personal Loans
Despite your best efforts, and more often than not, there is just not enough financial aid to go around. Most people turn to student loans or personal loans.
Student loans seem to be a smart option, because not only are the interest rates usually lower than that of a standard personal loan from your local bank, but they are also deferred until six months after graduation or leaving the college program.
It’s Out There
As you can see, contrary to what others may tell you finding the financial assistance you need to follow your dream may not be as hard as you once thought. Whether you are a brand new student bubbling with excitement about the chance to get in there and show them your stuff, or a well educated professional, eager to boost your performance in the workforce, or you are branching out into a totally new direction and embarking on a new career, there is money out there to be had.
The pathway to finally achieving your educational dreams begins here. Simply follow the financial aid road:
- Fill out your FAFSA and find out how much federal funding is available to you;
- Search for scholarships online, find one of the many scholarship search sites to guide you;
- Consult with a student loan program or a bank loan officer.
Once you have your finances secured, there is nothing standing between you and a brighter future.