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Maximizing Your Financial Aid Package

Since a college degree is necessary to get a high-paying job in today’s society, students spend most of their time applying for college, and not enough time preparing for college costs. The financial aid process is the most important part of college preparation because getting into college is worthless if you can’t pay for it. Applying for financial aid will help you avoid a lot of debt by providing you with the options available through your school and the federal government. Most students qualify for cholarships and grants, which will make college a realistic and affordable option.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the average annual cost of undergraduate tuition, room, and board for the 2012-2013 school year was $12,681 at public institutions and $31,876 at private institutions. Also co-op programs and other circumstances have caused many students to be in school for 5 years to get a 4-year degree, adding another years tuition to the bill. Fortunately, financial aid is available, and most students and families receive assistance.

Before taking out private student loans, consider how much you are offered from the government, colleges/ universities, and outside scholarships. Check out these tips on preparing a successful financial aid application so you will get the most funding possible.

Federal Financial Aid

To receive financial aid, students must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly known as FAFSA. For free help on completing the FAFSA, go to the Department of Education’s online help center, your college’s financial aid administrator, or your college counselor. After providing the government with with your financial information, you will receive a report detailing your eligibility for federal financial aid programs, including the Federal Pell Grant, the Academic Competitiveness Grant (ACG), the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG), the National SMART Grant, Federal Work Study and Stafford, Federal Perkins Loans and Federal PLUS Loans.

The most widespread grant is the Federal Pell Grant. The Pell Grant is a needs-based award available to both full and part-time students. Pell grants are not awarded based on academic standing. Other federal grants require that you are first eligible for the Pell Grant along with requirements such as academic interest or academic achievement.

Federal Stafford and Perkins Loans have to be repaid. If you cannot cover your costs sufficiently through federal grants and scholarships, federal loans are the best student loan option because they have lower interest rates than private loans.

Institutional (College) Financial Aid

In addition to filling out a FAFSA, investigate the financial aid opportunities at your intended college/university. Students who are accepted without indication of a college scholarship are eligible for college-based assistance. Many colleges expect that you find and apply for their scholarships on your own, so take the time to look for these scholarships.

Students who qualify for need-based scholarships and grands often qualify for Federal Work Study (FWS). FWS jobs are assigned by the college. Work study jobs are often connected to a student’s interests or field of study, are on campus. If the job is on campus, payroll is through the college. If you work off campus, your employer is usually a private non-profit organization or a public agency, and the work services the public. You will make at least the federal minimum wage. Your employer or financial aid administrator considers your class schedule and your academic progress when assigning jobs and work hours.

If you do not automatically qualify for a college scholarship, contact your financial aid office for additional scholarship or fellowship opportunities. Because institutional scholarships are only available to enrolled students, they are less competitive. Institutional scholarships and fellowships require work in the form of essays or research. If you are eligible, apply for these awards because they are often generous.

Scholarship Financial Aid

Most students are eligible for a long list of scholarship opportunities. Free scholarship searches, like the one on Scholarships.com, is an easy way to find awards specific to you. We have awards for things such as academic achievement, athletic achievement, special interests, and other unique characteristics so fill out a free profile and see what you match with.

Large corporations are often generous in the number and size of scholarships awarded. Companies such as Coca-Cola, Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks, and Taco Bell award many annual scholarships to students who need money for college.

Private donors and foundations also set up annual scholarship endowments, or funds to create awards for students. For example, a couple who enjoys golfing can create a scholarship fund in their name to award annually to a student who is an active golfer. A foundation for cancer research can set up a fund to award medical students who are interested in cancer research. Remember, fill out a profile and conduct a scholarship search to find scholarships that match your unique qualities.

Last Edited: November 2015

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