Pursuing a vocational career path starts with completing a focused educational program after high school, whether it is a two-year associate's degree or a shorter program. But schooling for a vocational career costs money, which you may not have. After you have researched your eligibility for various private grants and scholarships and have applied for them, you can also apply for government financial aid.

FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is a program that verifies your eligibility for financial aid. Your eligibility is based on the following factors:

  • Demonstrated Financial Need
    The government reviews your tax forms, or the tax forms of your parents if you are still listed as a dependent of them, and other income documents you provide. Your financial need is based on the cost attending the school you wish to attend minus the amount that you or your family will be able to contribute to your education, including tuition, books, school supplies, housing and other expenses related to your education.
  • U.S. Citizenship
    Be a U.S. citizen or an eligible noncitizen, and have a valid Social Security Number.
  • Selective Service Registration
    Registration with the Selective Service is required by law for all males ages 18-25. Although there is no longer a draft in the U.S. military, males must still register in case of a national emergency.
  • High School Diploma
    Must have a high school diploma or GED equivalent, or you must have passed an ability-to-benefit test.
  • Academic Progress
    Get good grades in college. Each grant or loan has different requirements in terms of what grade point average you need to maintain.
  • School Participation
    The school you wish to attend must participate in government financial aid programs. For best results, choose a school that is the most affordable in relation to your circumstances.

The following are the different kinds of financial aid grants and loans that eligible students could receive by the federal government during the 2010-11 school year.

  • Federal Pell Grant
    If you are eligible, you may receive up to two consecutive awards in a year. Typically they are awarded only to undergraduates, although there are some exceptions. Grant amounts range from $600 to $5,550.
  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant
    These grants are for undergraduates with exceptional financial need. Pell Grant recipients are given the grants first. Grant amounts range from $100 to $4,000.
  • Academic Competitiveness Grant
    This is a newer program for students in their first or second year of college or a certificate program. As of the 2010-11 school year, to be eligible in the first year, a student must have received a high school diploma after Jan. 1, 2006, and students in the second year must have completed their diploma after Jan. 1, 2005. In the first year, students may receive up to $750, and students in the second year may receive up to $1,300.
  • Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grant
    For students who are studying to become elementary or secondary education teachers. The grant does not need to be repaid if the student completes the program and fulfills a service obligation in a high-need field. Undergraduate students may receive up to $4,000 a year, not to exceed $16,000. Graduate students may receive up to $8,000.
  • Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant
    This is for students who are not eligible for a Pell Grant whose parent or guardian died while in military service in Iraq or Afghanistan after Sept. 1, 2001. Students must have been less than 24 years old at the time of their parent's or guardian's death.
  • Federal Work-Study
    Program that encourages the employment of undergraduate and graduate students either on or off campus for at least federal minimum wage.
  • Federal Perkins Loan
    Loan offered to students by the college they attend.
  • Direct PLUS Loan
    For parents of dependent undergraduate students and for graduate and professional students. As the loans are unsubsidized, the borrower is responsible for all interest.
  • Subsidized Direct Stafford Loan
    The U.S. government will pay interest on the loan until six months after the student finishes school. They will also pay for interest through grace periods. Students are given a grace period of one year in which they can hold off on making monthly loan payments but only with permission from the loan administrator.
  • Unsubsidized Direct Stafford Loan
    Borrower must pay all interest for the loan. Payments begin six months after students finish school. Students may take a grace period of one year in which they can hold off from making monthly loan payments but only with permission from the loan administrator.

Stafford loans often carry a mix of both subsidized and unsubsidized portions. Loan administrators often consolidate student loans that are subsidized and unsubsidized an that are from different school years into one chunk which can be paid in one monthly payment and have one interest rate.

Although some career paths do not require the completion of formal education, for a vocational career, you will need enough money to attend college or a certificate program from a combination of money you can earn yourself, receive from family, or get through scholarships or government grants. But even if you are eligible to receive a federal loan, make sure that you will be able to pay the money back with the salary you expect to receive in your vocational career.

Don't be discouraged if you would like to pursue a vocational career, or even a professional career, but education after high school is not affordable to you. After researching local and national scholarships from businesses, nonprofit organizations, schools and government agencies that you are eligible for, you can still apply for government financial aid that will award you based on need.

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