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After reading this question which gives a general overview of strategies of how to pay for college, it wasn't clear to me exactly how much "a dent in what you'd pay" could be, particularly in the case of grants or "free money".

My Situation

I live in the United States and have already been accepted into Missouri S&T. The college itself has already promised a general scholarship package of $5,500 for four years ($22,000), and I am expecting to receive the Bright Flight program scholarship (based upon my ACT score of 31) which is worth $3,000 over a four year period ($12,000). The aforementioned funds put me at a total of $34,000 so far. I have applied to one major scholarship and will start trying to apply soon for more.

I have around $3,500 in savings.

Based upon approximations given on their website for a resident of Missouri, I can expect a grand total for cost of attendance to be around $96,954 which after subtracting my expected scholarship amounts comes down to $62,954.

My parents' situation

My parents are divorced so I no longer live or see my dad, but from what I understand he is still paying child support. My mom lost a job a few months ago as a full-time job as a teacher that paid somewhere in the range of $10-$12 from what I can recall. She is now only working two part-time jobs for minimum wage. She is quickly losing any financial assets she had saved which means that at this point she may have less than me stowed away.

Question

I'm not implying that I want to rely on federal aid to pay for college instead of scholarships, but it will affect how rigorously I apply for scholarships and other aid program. When my family asks about how I will pay for college given our financial situation, I give the response that "federal aid and internships as a Computer Science major probably has me mostly covered", but I am unsure of that statement myself which is why I'm looking for advice here. Therefore, how much money can I potentially get from grants given my situation, and what factors help to determine that amount?

  • Only way to find out is to apply. – keshlam Jan 6 '16 at 1:20
  • @keshlam I just want a general idea. My high school doesn't explain much about how much you can get from grants and why you may get that much. – CaptainObvious Jan 6 '16 at 1:26
  • Did you try doing a Google search on "federal aid for college"? The first two links in the results should provide the info you need. – Charles E. Grant Jan 6 '16 at 1:40
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    You wrote "... but it will affect how rigorously I apply for scholarships and other aid program." This is definitely the wrong approach, especially if you're tight on money. You should be rigorously and vigorously applying for anything that you can find where you meet the qualifications. – user32479 Jan 6 '16 at 15:16
  • While this is a bit late, one thing to consider is studying abroad which can be a dramatically cheaper option. Many universities in the EU have English-language programmes and very affordable tuition fees even for foreign students. You'd need to do a fair bit of research but depending on the country and even without international scholarships you could graduate for around 10K instead of 100K. – Lilienthal Mar 7 '16 at 10:49
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It depends on which grants you'rs qualified for. It depends on which grants you apply for. It depends on how good your application makes you look by the criteria of thst fund, and how good every other candidate's application makes them look. It depends on how much money the sponsor can afford to give out this year.

The way to estimate this is to research what funds you can apply for, and run an expectation-value based on your best guess of how much they'll pay and the odds of being selected.

The way to get a real answer is to apply, do the best you can, and see what happens.

Welcome to your first taste of the real world. Many questions do not have simple answers, even as estimates.

Your guidance councelor may be able to give you some advice on what to apply for and how likely you are to get it. But in the end, you wind up applying for whatever you can, applying to a number of schools, and making a final decision after all the answers have come back.

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Grants come in several flavors: federal aid, college aid, and independent aid. We'll immediately ignore the last option, independent aid (usually in the forms of scholarships), as these can come from all sorts of organizations for various reasons and are generally merit-based.

For federal and college aid, you will need to file a FAFSA. Since your parents are divorced, you will need to use the financial information of whichever one of them you lived with more during the last 12 months. Once you submit the FAFSA, you will receive your EFC, which is the amount of money your family is estimated to be able to contribute to your education for the year.

The EFC isn't an obligation, but the simplified formula to determine how much you are in need is: (tuition cost + room and board + overhead (books, transport, etc)) - EFC = estimated need. This need will then allow your school to give you an aid package which is comprised of federal loans, grants, work-study programs, and college grants/scholarships (a scholarship is based on some kind of merit, be it academic or something else, while a grant is either general or need-based).

There is no good way to determine how much you will be given, so apply and find out. You may be able to talk with a financial aid officer at your school for an estimate, but it would just be an educated guess. If you have an EFC lower than your estimated yearly cost, you will generally be offered a Pell grant by the government (free money, basically) which currently has a yearly cap of $5775, though you may receive less than this. There are also a few other federal grant programs if you have exceptional financial need, but all of the grants are determined for you, you can't apply for them. Your college may also assign grants based on its own internal programs, and like federal funding you can't ask for them, they are simply given as part of an aid package. Lastly, you will probably be offered a combination of subsidized, unsubsidized, and parent loans to cover any difference in cost vs funding. There are also work-study programs you can opt in for, which is just an on-campus job in some capacity.

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