Most grants and scholarships are for students trying to attain that first college degree. But what's available for nontraditional students, those who are older and pursuing a graduate degree?
We're talking about students like Daniela Bostic-Clark, 44, who a week ago was accepted into a graduate program at Georgetown University. The one-year master's in leadership program will cost $43,600.
"At this stage of my life, I can't afford to be saddled with loans," says Bostic-Clark, an Accokeek, Prince George's County, resident in who works for a nonprofit in Virginia.
For now, she is the family's sole breadwinner until her husband finishes seminary school in late spring. She has a mortgage and a car payment. And there are other tuition bills to foot: Her son is a senior in college and her daughter will be in college in a couple of years.
For Bostic-Clark and others in her situation, here are some aid options:
Scholarships and grants. Head directly to the financial aid office at the school for information on grants and scholarships, says Laura Donnelly, director of student financial aid at the Johns Hopkins University's schools of business and education. Aid officers will be aware of lesser-known scholarships or those that students in the past have received that could apply to you, she says.
But don't stop there. Do your own research. The Internet can be a big help. A Google search for "women," "scholarships" and "business" turned up scholarships for women 25 and older from the Business and Professional Women's Foundation. Also, check out FastWeb.com, a free service that looks for scholarships that match your background. Finaid.org gives advice on how to search for scholarships and avoid scams.
Fellowships and assistantships. Fellows and graduate assistants to professors typically receive a combination of stipend, salary and tuition remission.
Both are based on academic excellence, although some schools with many applicants might also consider need, Donnelly says.
Fellowships are harder to come by than assistantships. Fellows are not expected to work. These plum positions usually are reserved for the most brilliant and promising candidates who are on a fast-track for a doctorate, Donnelly says.
Graduate assistants usually work 20 hours a week, often teaching undergraduates or helping out in the lab or with research.
The aid office should be able to tell you where to find out about fellowships and assistantships at your school.
Help from the state. Maryland offers a few awards for graduate study for residents attending a private or public school in the state.
Check out the Workforce Shortage Student Assistance Grant Program if you're going to grad school to be a nurse, teacher, physical therapist or one of the other fields where there are not enough workers in Maryland. Grad students can receive $2,000 a year for part-time study and $4,000 for full-time. Awards are based on need and merit.
You don't have to repay this money if you keep your promise to work in your field of study in Maryland after graduation. You must work one year for every year you got a grant. "If you don't, you have to pay the award back," says Glenda Hamlet, program administrator with the Maryland Higher Education Commission.
Studying law, dentistry, social work, nursing or medicine? The state's Graduate and Professional Scholarship awards $1,000 to $5,000 a year to needy students at certain schools.
Or, ask a politician for help. A program unique to Maryland allows state legislators to dole out scholarships to constituents. Each delegate and senator has about $34,500 to spread around annually, Hamlet says. The typical award is $1,000 from a senator and $500 from a delegate, she says. If your major isn't offered by a Maryland school, you may use these scholarships out of state.
Information is available at www.mhec.state.md.us.
Thanks, boss. Are your studies related to your current field of work and will be useful on the job? If so, ask your employer to reimburse you for tuition, Donnelly suggests. Some will, although you might receive a full or partial reimbursement only if your grade is B or better.
Because it is a reimbursement, you must come up with the money first. If you're short on cash, consider taking out a federal loan and repay it once your employer reimburses you, Donnelly says.
The L-word. Sometimes loans are the only option. Federal loans are better than private loans.
Among federal loans, Perkins is the best. Schools dole out this federal money to the neediest of students. Loans are subsidized, meaning Uncle Sam pays the interest while you are in school. A graduate student can borrow up to $6,000 in a year. The interest rate is 5 percent. You could have all or some of the loan forgiven if you work in certain fields in underserved areas.
A Stafford loan is your next best bet. Graduate students can borrow up to $20,500 in a year. The rate is fixed at 6.8 percent.
Still short? The Central Scholarship Bureau in Pikesville offers interest-free loans to Maryland residents to cover the gap between financial aid and the cost of school. Loans of up to $10,000 a year are awarded based on need and merit. Check out www.centralsb.org for details.
Another option: the Graduate and Professional Student PLUS loan. This federal loan to cover a shortfall is similar to the PLUS loan for parents. The rate is 8.5 percent.
Questions? Comments? Or to share a tip with readers, contact Eileen Ambrose at 410-332-6984 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.