Money in a man's hand

While there’s some truth to the saying “you’ve got to spend money to make money,” for many people, cost is the biggest barrier to pursuing an education beyond high school.

The good news? Grants, loans, work-study and scholarships are available to help you. And you can qualify for certain types of aid even if you are in a higher income bracket. If you’re working, your employer may also offer assistance to help pay for your schooling.

Where to Start: The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) 

All students/families should complete a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) each year.

A FAFSA determines if you are eligible for:

A Federal Pell Grant. A Pell Grant is money for lower-income students and does not require any repayment. Eligibility for a Pell Grant is based on the estimated contribution of the student and their family (known as the EFC – Estimated Family Contribution). Learn more about Pell Grants>>

Federal Work-Study Opportunities. Qualifying for work-study gives you access to part-time jobs that help pay for your schooling.

Federal Loans. These often have lower rates and better terms than private loans.

Other State and Local Funds. Many financial aid offices use the FAFSA to identify students who could use extra cash in the form of grants and scholarships (like the Fuse scholarship). Florida also requires a FAFSA be completed to qualify for state financial aid.

Important Dates and Deadlines

The FAFSA is available starting Oct. 1, 2019 for the 2020-21 school year. Apply now>>

The federal deadline for applications is June 30 of each year.

Some aid is distributed on a first-come, first-served basis and some schools may have earlier deadlines, so fill out the application as soon as possible.

Help with the FAFSA

Don’t let the FAFSA overwhelm you. Get the help you need:

LEAP Tampa Bay volunteers work with our school district and college partners to help students fill out financial aid forms throughout the fall and spring each year.

The FAFSA website has helpful information to guide you through the application process and answer frequently asked questions. You can also call 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243).

Your college/career counselor and institution’s financial aid office are also great resources.

State and Local Financial Assistance

Florida Financial Aid/Scholarships

The State of Florida offers financial assistance to students through grants and a variety of scholarships, like a grant for students whose parents didn’t go to college and the popular (and valuable) Bright Futures Scholarship Program.  See all State of Florida financial aid opportunities>>

In addition to a FAFSA, students must complete the Florida Financial Aid Application to qualify for these programs. The application opens Oct. 1 for the 2019-2020 school year, and is due no later than August 31, 2019. Apply now>>

Finding Other Scholarships

FUSE Program first scholarship announcement

The financial aid or foundation offices of any college or technical school you are considering will have information about scholarships that are available. Often, these scholarships are awarded based on need and do not require an application as long as you have completed the FAFSA.

Locally, the University of Tampa, St. Petersburg College and Hillsborough Community College offer a “scholarship drawing” for Pinellas and Hillsborough HS students who complete their FAFSA. Other unique scholarships, like those from the College Board and Raise.Me, reward students for achieving success in school or completing college prep activities rather than requiring the traditional application or essay. Student athletes may also qualify for financial aid if they go on to play sports in college. Learn more about the NCAA requirements and process to become a college athlete here.

Many traditional scholarships require an application and other materials, such as an essay or letters of recommendation. Since they require a bit of extra effort on the part of the student, you may be surprised at how often scholarships like this go unawarded – so apply for them!

Many public and private organizations provide scholarships. Some links to help you search for them can be found on our scholarship page.

Tuition Reimbursement

If you work, ask your human resources department about education benefits such as tuition reimbursement. For job seekers, the availability of tuition reimbursement at your future employer could mean the difference between going back to school and putting it off.

Be sure to ask about any special conditions, like how long you have to be on the job before you can take advantage of benefits, the number of credit hours covered and whether your degree has to relate to your current position.

For more info on how to pay for college, check out our full list of resources.