Colleges and universities are working hard to attract a new group of undergraduate students each year. Schools have intensified marketing efforts and offer options that fit everyone’s needs. From the traditional aged freshman who wants to be a full time resident student to the part time adult student who is seeking online alternatives, there is a curriculum and schedule that matches each potential student.

With all the focus on increasing the number of incoming students, you may be surprised by the fact that registrations in higher education programs have decreased steadily over the last 10 years. There are no simple answers for the declining numbers but one factor contributing to this trend is the rising costs of education. Many think that the colleges or universities that meet their needs are financially out of reach so they do not even apply. But there are multiple financial aid options available and recent research reports that only about half of higher education students pay the full price.

The variety of financial aid and special population programs that exist today provide vehicles for almost everyone to attend the college of their choice. Of course, you need to qualify academically before completing an application for any type of aid or program. Once you do apply, you need to research all your options so that you can make an informed decision. You will probably calculate tuition, housing and food costs but be sure to calculate the amount you will need for learning materials, books, class fees, and even transportation. The congressional Total Cost of Attendance Act requires schools to publish these costs and some aid packages cover them.

Depending on the school you choose, the COA could range from $25,000 to $100,000 annually. You should not despair even if your dream school is among those with the highest costs because you may be eligible for financial aid. There are grants, loans, and scholarships that are sponsored by the federal and state governments, the schools themselves, and private organizations. There are also designated funds for targeted populations. Some examples are scholarships for adult students, grants for minority students, special programs and funding for those with disabilities or the LGBTQ community or programs for veterans.

Each of these programs require you to meet certain qualifications before you receive any aid but the additional time and effort may be worth it. If you seek financial aid from the government, you must complete the FAFSA. If you want to apply for a scholarship, you can apply directly to the school or to some organization like the Elks with whom you have some affiliation. If you want to enter college through one of the military programs, you will need to complete a certification for veteran benefits.

There could be many reasons why you would be unable to achieve your educational goal or pursue the degree of your choice but finances should not be one of them. Do your research and determine which type of aid or special program makes the most sense for you. Then, complete the application process and begin your educational travels.