Do you need student aid? If you're wishing you could earn a certification or bachelor's degree but fear it's hopeless, you might want to reconsider. You probably have far more doors open to you than you realize. 

For a start, surf the government's Federal Student Aid website, and you'll quickly realize that bars may not be set as high as you thought, requirements may not be as stringent, and there's something for anyone willing to look.

What Types Of Student Aid Can I Get?
How Do My Grades Affect My Eligibility?
How Does My Financial Behavior Affect My Eligibility?
Am I Eligible For Loan Forgiveness?
Am I Eligible If I Am Not A U.S. Citizen?
How Does My Age Affect My Eligibility?
Am I Eligible Eve If I Have A Criminal Record?
Am I Eligible For Minority Grants?
I Still Don't See Where I Fit In
A Final Word

  1. What Types Of Student Aid Can I Get?

    Financial aid can come from a number of different sources. Federal and state governments, colleges, private institutions and public nonprofit organizations all offer an assortment of loans, grants, work-study opportunities and scholarships. Often the problem is sifting through overwhelming options to find the ones that offer the best fit for you.

    One of the basics that many students miss is that while scholarships tend to demand some form of superlative excellence, such as grades or athletic accomplishment, grants often focus on leveling the academic field by addressing inequalities or disadvantages, such as financial need or ethnic under-representation.

  2. How Do My Grades Affect My Eligibility?

    Grades play far less of a role than many people think in gaining and keeping student financial aid. Many programs go past whether you have a high school or general equivalency diploma to instead determine if you're qualified to receive a college education.

    Ability-to-benefit alternatives allow colleges to administer tests to determine whether you would be able to benefit from an education there. Another option allows you to prove yourself through six credit hours, usually two classes; if you pass the classes, you pass the eligibility requirement for student aid.

  3. How Does My Financial Behavior Affect My Eligibility?

    Even the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the form you must submit before all other forms, regardless of state, college or intent, focuses on financial need, personal financial status and your management of educational finances.

    This is the form that the federal government, state programs, and colleges and universities all will use as you work through the financial details of funding your education. The form does ask your educational status, but it does not ask for grades or a grade point average (GPA). The FAFSA and resulting aid are not tied to your prior grades.

  4. Am I Eligible For Loan Forgiveness

    Some financial aid can be gained post-degree if you earn the applicable accreditation and maintain employment in selective fields that struggle for qualified professionals. Teachers, librarians, professionals who work with children or grown individuals with special needs, law enforcement officers, lawyers, firefighters, nurses or medical technicians, social workers, speech pathologists, teachers with science or math certifications, teachers with foreign language certifications, university faculty members and even soldiers may all be eligible for up to 100-percent loan forgiveness under certain conditions through direct, Federal Family Education or Federal Perkins loans.

  5. Am I Eligible If I Am Not A U.S. Citizen?

    Even if you're not a U.S. citizen, you may be eligible for student aid. No, the FAFSA doesn't ask about your parents' citizenship. The federal government has programs for U.S. nationals and permanent residents as well as refugees and asylum seekers, conditional entrants and even parolees.

    If you hold a T-Visa or your parent does as a victim of human trafficking, you're eligible. If you're a documented victim of a U.S. citizen's spousal or parental abuse with battered immigrant status, you're eligible. Even if you're a citizen of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, or the Republic of Palau, you may be eligible for certain types of aid.

  6. How Does My Age Affect My Eligibility?

    Age is not a determinant in financial student aid for "nontraditional students." The FAFSA examines financial need versus financial resources. If you're older but want to pursue a degree or certification, student aid will still hinge on financial need.

    FinAid.org has great resources for career paths, scholarships and other assistance for the 30-year-and-up crowd, proving the adage that "you're never too old to learn," or for that matter, to merit financial assistance.

  7. Am I Eligible Eve If I Have A Criminal Record?

    You might be surprised, but an entire section of the student aid website is devoted to individuals with criminal convictions.

    Know that if you were convicted of charges that were drug-related or involved a sexual offense, the nature of those crimes will bar you from receiving aid. Otherwise, you may be eligible.

    If you served or are serving time in a federal or state facility, you may be limited to Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants or federal work-study. However, if you served time in any other institution or are on probation or parole, you may still be eligible for a Pell Grant as well as the previously mentioned student aid opportunities.

  8. Am I Eligible For Minority Grants?

    Don't pass this one by too quickly. There's more here than at first meets the eye. Minority grants come in two forms, ethnic and nonethnic: 

    • Ethnic grants are based on cultural heritage. African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asian Americans, and all other ethnicities are all eligible for grants from organizations dedicated to helping would-be students sharing their ethnic background.
    • Nonethnic grants are based on students' needs for access. Common categories for nonethnic grants may focus on students with physical or cognitive disabilities or women from diverse backgrounds pursuing fields of study that historically have been male-dominated.

    College Scholarships.org contains a slew of information and options for students looking for minority-based student aid and is well worth a visit.

  9. I Still Don't See Where I Fit In

    If none of these categories apply to you, you still have no reason to despair. These are but the tip of the iceberg and hover primarily on the federal level. The federal student aid site has a scholarship search as well as more information on federal and state-based loan, grant and work-study student aid programs. 

    The U.S. Department of Labor also offers a free online search encompassing awards, fellowships, grants, internships, loans, monetary awards, prizes and recognitions as well as a category labeled other. It addresses all levels of education.

    You can narrow by state as well as U.S. territories and Canada, and you can tailor your search through affiliations like the military, ethnicity or religion, for example.

    If you're up for something really different, myscholly.com might demonstrate just how diverse, and attainable, the world of grants and scholarships is. Both app- and Web-enabled, the search engine asks you to input your personal information and requirements and emails you a list of opportunities you're eligible to pursue.

    The site proves that all sorts of companies and organizations are offering funds for time and talent. From designing a functionally unique architecture with sails to writing an alternate history for the Roman Empire, you may just come across something you are able to do in exchange for financial support.

  10. A Final Word

    In Disney's "Finding Nemo," the forgetful blue fish named Dory chattered three of the wisest words ever spoken, especially when you're facing the long, formidable road of funding your education: "Just keep swimming".

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