February is Financial Aid Awareness month, and in that spirit, I’m going to share the top five things I think every student should understand about financial aid. Are you ready? Let’s get started!
Not all financial aid is need-based. This is the first thing to understand. Don’t bypass the financial aid process because you think you won’t qualify for aid. Some student loans are not based on financial need, but offer low interest rates. Which leads me to my next point…
Complete the FAFSA: the sooner, the better. FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid and it’s your first step toward securing financial aid for college. Complete the FAFSA as soon as possible after January 1 of your senior year. Deadlines vary for different types of aid, and you don’t want to miss out simply because you didn’t complete the application in time.
Things have changed since your parents were in high school. College isn’t just more expensive than it was when your parents were your age; the financial aid world has changed as well. Private loans, parent loans and federal loans have changed considerably in the past few years. Be sure to attend a financial aid night and talk with your school guidance counselor if you have questions. You can also talk with the financial aid office of the school you’re planning to attend.
Look beyond the sticker price. Many colleges are able to offer financial packages that will reduce their “sticker price” considerably. Talk with the school’s financial aid office to get an idea of what type of aid you might be able to expect.
Scholarships are not just for valedictorians and athletes. You don’t have to be a superstar scholar or athlete to secure a scholarship. Scholarships are offered with many different criteria. But you do need to put in the effort to look for them. Use an online search engine and talk with your school guidance counselor to get started.