Congratulations! You have found colleges and/or universities that you would love to attend if admitted. But now the problem you are facing is finding the money to pay for the cost of your education. Are you feeling a bit discouraged and overwhelmed by the financial aid process? Don’t throw your hands up in despair! Perhaps breaking the process of finding financial aid down into consecutive steps might make it more manageable and less frightening. Let’s try that.
Start early locating outside scholarships. This is the best tip of all. If you begin looking for scholarships in your sophomore or junior year of high school, you can identify potential scholarships at a time when you will be able to focus on this task. By following this advice, you will reduce so much stress on yourself in your senior year when you will be busy completing applications and filling out financial aid forms.
A great place to start searching for scholarships and awards for college is at FastWeb…once you fill out your profile, FastWeb will match scholarships to you and send weekly alerts of new scholarships.
Tip! If you are looking for a large scholarship that you can win without much work, enter the monthly drawing for the $10K Scholarship at Scholarship Zone All you need to do is fill out their entry form every month; no essay to write!
Before your senior year begins, you should have compiled a list of scholarships that you are eligible for, noting the deadline date and the requirements of the scholarship. If an essay is required, you should have at least your first draft completed. You should also have your resume developed and updated with all pertinent information. As a result of your early start, you might even find several scholarships designated just for juniors or sophomores that you apply for and win!
When requesting information about a school, you should also inquire about financial aid at that time. It’s a good idea to take time to meet with a financial aid officer as well as an admissions rep when you visit a college. The financial aid policies and procedures may vary from college to college so it is important to learn the details of each college’s process. Who better to teach you than the expert in the field at each one of your colleges!
Go to your guidance office and obtain a copy of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA should be available in November. Although you can not file this financial aid form until after January 1st, you will be able to read through it carefully and know what information is required ahead of time.
If you are applying to private colleges, you need to check each private college’s requirements for financial aid to determine if you need to submit the College Scholarship Service (CSS) PROFILE. The PROFILE is a customized financial aid application for a college’s institutional aid. If it is required, you should submit a registration for the Profile as early as possible, preferably in September. Within a month, you will then receive the application from CSS. Be sure and check the deadlines for filing the Profile application as these deadlines vary from school to school, some are as early as December. It is best to file the Profile application before December 1 to meet all deadlines.
Attend the Financial Aid Night usually held at local high schools in December or early January. Be sure to bring the FAFSA with you to the meeting so you can ask specific questions that you might have regarding its completion. At these sessions, a qualified financial aid officer will present valuable information on the financial aid process in general and specifically explain how to complete the FAFSA line by line. If your high school does not offer such an informational session, be on the lookout for other sessions that might be offered within a reasonable driving distance from you.
Make a copy of your completed FAFSA and submit your FAFSA form for processing no earlier than January 1 and preferably no later than January 31st. Then, in approximately 3-4 weeks after submission you and the schools you have selected will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) which confirms the data that you sent.
It is extremely important to review the SAR carefully to make sure that all the information is correct. If you sent in estimated income, using last year’s taxes when you first submitted the FAFSA, be sure to update these figures with the exact figures from your completed tax form for the current year.
If there are no problems to resolve, the SAR will state your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) which is simply the amount of money your family will be expected to pay out-of-pocket for your college education.
In April, you should start receiving a Financial Aid Statement (FAS) from the financial aid office of each school you have been accepted. Make sure you review each award letter for accuracy of information.
It is important to keep every award letter in order to compare aid packages. If you are particularly disappointed in one school’s package, it is advisable to contact that school’s financial aid office and try to renegotiate a better offer—especially if another college has offered you substantially more money. Yes, you can negotiate!
After reviewing the Financial Aid Statement, you might decide that you need additional funding. At this time you should begin to apply for loans; e.g. Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students (PLUS), an Unsubsidized Stafford Loan, or a privately insured supplemental loan from your bank or another bank. Generally, you and your parents should complete and return loan applications to your loan provider in May in order to ensure timely processing of the loan application.
Now, take a deep breath. You are prepared and ready to attend college in the fall!