First go to your school website and search for programs to apply for. There are several financial aid sites with programs. You can also visit your school's financial aid office for more assistance.
There are many ways to pay for schooling, and there are pros and cons to all of them, but I am going to try and list them in the order I believe is most beneficial based on personal and my network's experiences.
- Scholarships/Grants - These are typically the best bang for your buck as they are essentially free money that donors/sponsors are willing to give to students seeking education. Scholarships & grants have many different requirements to be eligible, ranging from merit (GPA, test scores, honors courses), to extracurricular involvements (sports, clubs, volunteer organizations, etc). There are many different places you can find scholarships, such as from the schools you want to attend, your local community, and even online at the national level. Scholarship applications are usually free so apply for as many as you can and qualify for as you have nothing to lose but a lot to gain.
- Work-study programs - Programs that offer a on or near campus job that is typically part time and designed to allow an individual to attend school while also working for a paycheck. These jobs vary widely depending on the school, but are highly sought-after due to the flexibility and convenience. There is typically a high demand for work-study positions so look into what your school is offering and be sure to apply for them as early as possible. Some require an individual to meet certain eligibility criteria so also look out for that.
- Government sponsored loans - These loans are subsidized by the government to entice students to pursue additional education. The terms and conditions vary significantly from individual to individual but the general idea is that they offer reduced interest rates and usually do not require payments to be made until after graduation or discontinuation of school.
- Private loans - This loan category is going to end up costing more than government loans because they carry higher interest rates and less favorable terms for the student. The upside is that these loans are typically widely available and can cover any education costs an individual may be unable to cover through the other above methods.
Important note: Many scholarships and federal loans require students to fill out the Federal application for student aid. This is a free form that will determine your eligibility for federal aid and is also used by many private grants and donors to distribute need-based scholarships. Fill this out as soon as possible (it usually is available starting October 1st of the year prior to enrolling in school), because you have a better chance of receiving aid the sooner you complete the form.
“State and School FAFSA® Deadlines: Do You Know Yours?” Federal Student Aid, studentaid.ed.gov/sa/.
Kennedy recommends the following next steps:
First, do you know what you want to do when you get out of college? For many, even if you think you do, it can and does change. My advice would be to take more time. Take fewer hours each semester, work in different industries and pay for school as you go. Will it take an extra two years to graduate? Possibly, but who wouldn't want two more years of college! Work in retail, banking, food service, a lawyers office..work in multiple industries while you are in school and when you find one you love, maybe then speed up your course hours. But until then, get your core classes out of the way, find your industry and pay for it all as you go. You will leave school with little to no debt and a solid direction for your future in something you want to do.
Seek employment that offers education assistance. Military, McDonalds, ChikFila
This can be a tough process for anyone regardless of socio economic status. Some steps to take would be to seek scholarships from various organizations and or schools that you may meet their qualifications. Another way could be to attend a local community college and work while you attend. Depending on where you work the company may offer tuition assistance. Of course there are student loans but be sure to understand the ramifications of accumulating that debt and how you will pay it off once you begin your chosen career.