More “Free” Money for College 1: Financial Aid

Scholarships may be my favorite route to a free trip to college, but they are not the ONLY way! Our nation places a high value on the education of its citizens, and although tuition is expensive, plenty of opportunities are offered for those who are dedicated to obtaining a degree. In the first of a series of posts on other ways to fund your major, here’s the lowdown on financial aid.

Many people think that they will only qualify to receive financial aid if their family receives food stamps and buys all of their clothes at Goodwill. This is a complete misconception, because even upper-middle class students may receive some financial aid. If you happen to come from a poor family, or have other complicating circumstances in your life, you may be able to finance your entire education solely on financial aid. A 19-year-old friend of mine, who was a former foster child and struggling single parent, had his entire tuition paid for by government grants, plus he also received a $2,000 check every quarter toward his school and living expenses. This may sound like a sweet deal, but please don’t try to increase your financial aid allotment by having a kid! Babies cry while you’re trying to study, and they drool on your term papers. It just isn’t worth it.

What’s the catch, you ask? Why would a college just give me free money? Well, in order to receive financial aid, you must complete the extensive Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or the CSS/Profile (private colleges). This initial step scares off the lazy students who don’t like to fill out long forms, but that leaves more money in the pot for you, an organized individual, who is the veteran of so many scholarship applications.

What does “Pell Grant” mean? How about “Stafford Loan?” Are you worried about your ability to understand the complicated world of financial aid? Don’t be, because you don’t have to understand jack! Just turn your completed forms in at the school(s) of your choice, and let the experts handle the details. Of course, if you don’t want to be completely clueless, there are plenty of websites and books that will teach you all about financial aid — including this one!

Well, okay…even if it isn’t part of my job description, I’ll give you a few tips on collecting all of the financial aid that you’ve got coming:

  1. Be sure to get your income taxes done as soon as possible (or nag your parents about doing theirs), because you will need to supply that information on your financial aid application.
  2. Hopefully, you will be accepted by more than one college. Before making a final decision, compare the amount/type of financial aid you can expect to receive from each institution. A more expensive school can easily become equally affordable (or even less costly) than one with a lower price tag, thanks to an awesome financial aid package.
  3. Find out your schools’ deadlines and turn in your application on time.
  4. Ask your assigned financial aid officer to re-evaluate your package if you have a valid reason to think you haven’t been offered enough help, or if your finances situation suffers a tragic blow.
  5. Type “Summer Melt” into an Internet search engine and follow the instructions you find.
  6. Get more help. Don’t rely on only my advice to score the most you can possibly get in financial aid money. Visit http://www.fasfa.ed.gov for more information, and research the ways to best arrange your family finances before you apply.

Already on top of it? Not for you? Check back soon for more ways to find “free” money for college.

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