By Dean Tsouvalas
Now that applications are in, it's time for college-bound students to start applying for financial aid to help fund their education. Yesterday I sat down with Gene Lavanchy of Boston's Fox 25 Morning News Show to discuss ways students and parents can land the best possible financial aid package. While the process of applying for aid may seem as easy as just filling out the FAFSA there's actually a lot more to it! So what can you do to ensure you're setting yourself up to receive the most aid?
Learn more about the 7 ways to get the best financial aid package for college:
1. Fill out the FAFSA! It all starts with the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).
One study showed that 53% of eligible families did not bother applying for aid through the FAFSA leaving millions on the table. Colleges use the FAFSA to determine your eligibility for government funded financial aid such as grants and federal student loans. Schools will also determine if you qualify for need-based scholarships based on your FAFSA score. You can do it all online at FAFSA.gov. DO NOT pass on filling out the financial aid paperwork if you think you won’t qualify
2. Proof read your FAFSA (at least 3 times) to avoid these common mistakes:
- Listing incorrect Social Security Number or Driver’s license
- Leaving blank fields – enter a ‘0′ or ‘not applicable’ instead of leaving a blank. Too many blanks may cause miscalculations and an application rejection.
- Using commas or decimal points in numeric fields – always round to the nearest dollar.
- Listing marital status incorrectly – only write yes if you are currently married. They want to know what your marital status is on the day you sign the FAFSA, or Renewal FAFSA.
- Listing parent marital status incorrectly – the custodial parent’s marital status is required; if they’ve remarried, you’ll need the stepparent’s information too.
- Leaving the question about drug-related offenses blank – if you’re unsure about something, find out before you submit your FAFSA instead of leaving it blank. A conviction doesn’t necessarily disqualify you from getting aid.
- Forgetting to list the college – obtain the Federal School Code for the college, you plan on attending and list it – along with any other schools to which you’ve applied.
- Forgetting to sign and date – if you’re filling out the paper FAFSA be sure to sign it. If you’re filing electronically, be sure to obtain your PIN from www.pin.ed.gov. Your PIN is your electronic signature and will always be assigned to you only.
3. Make sure your parent has as little cash in checking, savings and other cash-equivalents as possible on the day you file your FAFSA.
The final set of questions on your FAFSA will ask about the money you have on hand. Make sure that you and your student have as little money in checking, savings and other cash-equivalents the day you file the paperwork. It also helps to pay off as many bills as possible before filing the paperwork.
4. Your student should always file a tax return, even if he or she is not making any money.
A tax return that says $0 can actually work in his or her favor, as it demonstrates a need.
5. Understand that grades have little to do with financial aid awards.
Many parents assume their child must have good grades to qualify for grants and scholarships. This is inaccurate. Most colleges award a majority of their grants based on financial need, not merit. Merit scholarships comprise less than 2% of the total “pot.” Although it’s fun to talk about merit scholarships, the big money - more than 98% - is in the need-based financial aid system.
6. Don’t wait on your acceptance letters before applying for aid!
Financial Aid is on a first come, first serve basis. You don’t need to be accepted to a college before you can submit your FAFSA – you only need to list which schools you have applied to. Typically, for first year students, colleges mail their financial aid reward statuses to students a few months after the application deadline to accepted students.
7. Be sure to compare financial aid packages from different schools closely.
Do not be afraid to read between the lines on financial aid reward letters. It’s not uncommon for “expensive” private colleges to offer better financial aid packages than state schools. Examine the gap (if there is one) between the financial aid package and the cost of attendance for each school to see how well the package meets your need. Break down how much money is coming from grants, federal loans, scholarships, and work-study. Grants and scholarships don’t have to be paid back. Work-study money must be earned through part time employment during the school year and students must pay taxes on it. Loans need to be paid back and different families can take on different amounts of debt. Remember – federal loans are less expensive and have more benefits than private loans.
You must fill out a FAFSA every year you are in school, but if you apply online, you can re-use your FAFSA-on-the-Web PIN each year you apply for federal financial aid.
Make sure you fill in every year for every child you have in college starting in January of their SENIOR year in high school to ensure you have a chance at receiving the most aid.
By Murray Miller
Figuring out how to fund your college education can be overwhelming. If you've already been hunting around, it's clear that there's a massive amount of financial aid information on the web. Knowing where to look and what you should be looking for when you're applying for grants, scholarships, and other need-based financial aid can save you a huge amount of time and frustration.
Here are 3 steps for getting started with financial aid research:
1. Determine what percentage of financial need each college on your list has met historically.
All things being roughly equal, wouldn’t you rather attend a more generous school compared to a stingy one? StudentAdvisor's college profile pages offer information on what percentage of financial need has been met based off recent Department of Education data. Select a school from this list of US colleges to get started.
2. Determine how that college meets need.
This is the breakdown between free stuff (grants and scholarships) and self-help (loans/work study). Two colleges could meet the same overall percentage of need, but your financial aid could be vastly different between the two.
3. Pin down the priority deadlines!
Some schools require forms as early as November 1! Others may want you to file by February 15th. Make sure you research deadlines for each college on your list, since a lot of financial aid is first come, first served.
Now, a quick word on how to use the information uncovered in #1 and #2...
The ‘formula’ used by each school to determine your financial aid award is as follows: COA (Cost of Attendance) – EFC (Expected Family Contribution) = Need. Schools award financial aid based on how much need you show. As noted above, once you identify the percentage of need that your college meets, you have a decent handle on what your award will look like. Here is a simplified example:
Assume two colleges with a $50,000 Cost of Attendance and a $25,000 EFC. Your Need is $25,000. If “College A” meets 100% of need, you’ll receive an award of about $25,000 and your cost will be your EFC of $25,000. However, only the most elite, competitive colleges in the country will meet 100% of need. Most do not.
If “College B” only meets 80% of need, you may only receive $20,000 in aid, and you’ll have to pay about $30,000 (this is your EFC + the 20% unmet portion). So your total out of pocket for one year at the second school is $5,000 more than the first school, even though their sticker prices may be the same.
Where to Look for the Answers
How can you find this information? Always check the official websites for each college. Understand that you will have to click around for a while – colleges don’t make this information easy to find. Typically there will be a section of a college website dedicated to the financial aid department. Sometimes this information can be tucked away on an admissions or prospective student section. If you're having trouble finding information on the school website, you can also call the financial aid office. But we warned - you may end up frustrated by the lack of responsiveness, according to most of the parents we work with.
If your'e still feeling lost you’d be well-served to consult a qualified college finance specialist. For example, our firm has all of this information at our fingertips and we get a lot of it directly from the colleges and some from the Department of Education. Our Smart Track™ Toolkit website has the tools (many of them for FREE) to help you project what each college will award within a small margin of error, and suggest legal and ethical ways to qualify for more grants and scholarships than you would on your own. No matter whether you seek out expert help or do it yourself, preparation and research can pay off in a big way.
Don’t put it off or you could lose out – on tens of thousands of dollars in financial aid.
Murray Miller is a financial educator devoted to the college planning space for over a decade. Murray is the President and CEO of the College Resource Center, LLC. You may contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 800-863-9440. For more information, including a schedule of free college workshops, visit www.SmartTrackToolkit.com. Connect with us Smart Track on Facebook and Twitter.
By Hona Amer
Hona Amer is a Verified Advisor on StudentAdvisor. Be sure to check out her book Smart Work U for more tips on cutting down college expenses:
What if someone was willing to pay your college tuition bill for you and it didn’t include your parents, grandparents, or friends? Every college student would sign up. Scholarships and grants are tools that can help you pay for your college tuition. If you are in college, you have probably started to look for scholarships. Maybe your parents talk to you about it all the time. They want you to find scholarships; you want to find scholarships for yourself, but the process is overwhelming. People are talking about getting free money for college, but you are struggling with how to make it a reality.
Scholarships and grants are similar but have some differences. Scholarships are usually based on academic merit, while grants are usually based on financial need. Grants are most commonly awarded through the government, whereas scholarships will usually come from institutions, corporations, and the private sector. Large corporations give academic or financial need scholarships every year. By searching for corporate scholarships online, you will find corporations that give annual scholarships to students just like you. Through scholarships and grants, you could potentially go to college for free. Yet, there is a slight catch.
Applying for Scholarships and Grants
Securing scholarships is probably the area that requires the most assertiveness on your part. Rarely do scholarships sit and wait for you. Applying for scholarships is similar to applying for a job. There are a bunch of applications all vying for one position. Similar to a job application, you want to stand out among the scholarship applicants. When you are applying, ask yourself what the person giving the scholarship would be looking for in an applicant. Then, show how you exceed those qualifications through your application. While you don’t want to fabricate the information, highlight your strengths and the reasons you should be the recipient of the scholarship. Even simple things such as having a professional email address and avoiding grammatical errors on your application will help you stand out above the rest.
Create a Scholarship Strategy
You can eliminate the scholarship struggle by utilizing a scholarship strategy. Create a systematic approach to applying for scholarships. Prepare a document of basic information that you need on all scholarship applications. This will include your name, address, and other personal information. Many applications will ask about your major or future career plans. Writing a couple standard essays that you can customize for the specific scholarship will help you fast track your way through applying for scholarships. Save that document and refer to it every time you apply for a scholarship. Don’t reinvent the wheel every time you apply. Customize each application to the specific guidelines and submission requirements. If you are no longer a freshman, it does not mean that you shouldn’t apply for scholarships or grants. Review the guidelines for each scholarship or grant to make sure it includes applications from current college students.
Don’t Limit Your Options
As you are on campus, you will become aware of other scholarship opportunities that you were previously unaware of. When I was in college, I was surprised at how many scholarships I found out about after I started college. Colleges will award scholarships based on academic performance, athletics, for being the valedictorian of your high school class, fine arts, music, scholarships based on financial need, and even other departmental scholarships. Apply for the school-based scholarships that are applicable to you.
Finally, ask questions, take initiative, and submit many scholarship applications. Don’t just apply for large scholarships. Every dollar you receive from scholarships and grants will help you go to college for free. Remember, the people who apply for scholarships are the people who get scholarships. And those are the people going to college for free.
Hona Amer fast-tracked through college in 2½ years and graduated with her Bachelor of Business Administration degree at age 20. She graduated with her MBA the same month she turned 22. Her book, Smart Work U, helps high school students, college students, and parents make smart decisions about college in order to graduate early, debt-free. Today, she enjoys assisting students as they navigate the University experience through. Connect with Hona on StudentAdvisor or on Twitter @honaamer.
by Lisa Ruffino from CourseAdvisor
Con Artists Fraudulently Offer "Free" Education Grants
Well, here's one old profession that always thrives during hard times: con artists promising access to free money, including government education grants and scholarships, just when you need it most.
In the 21st century, con artists have a vast new audience to exploit; via the Internet, they can reach millions of people. You may want to go back to school—and that's a good idea when you lose your job and want to start over—but don't let Internet scammers fool you into giving them your credit card number for education grant and scholarship information you can get for free on a number of legitimate federal government sites.
This is nothing more than an education grant scam, and there are dozens of them. They offer you a "grant kit" for only $1.99, then immediately sign you up for their grant-writing "help center," charging your credit card anywhere from $25 to $100 a month - forever. Very often, by the time you realize what's going on, it's too late to back out.
"Don't Fall for Their Education Grant Scam; We're the Real Thing!"
Many of these websites actually warn you in great detail of such education grant scams, only to assure you that they are genuine and to suggest that you buy their education grant information instead. Slick.
On March 3, 2009, both the Federal Trade Commission and the national Better Business Bureau published press releases warning consumers about the education grant scams. In the days following, some of the education grant scam sites were removed from the Web. But they'll be back, with a different website and a new pitch, but the same old scam: "Give us your credit card, give us your bank account, and we'll show you the way to free money." Don't be fooled! If it sounds too good to be true - you're right.
Here is the Federal Trade Commission warning:
FTC Warns Consumers About Economic Stimulus Scams
The FTC is warning consumers that they could get stung by an economic stimulus scam. The scams come in different forms.
Right now, on the Web and in e-mail, scammers are telling consumers they can help them qualify for a payment from President Obama's economic stimulus package. All they have to do is provide a little information or a small payment.
E-mail messages may ask for bank account information so that the operators can deposit consumers' share of the stimulus directly into their bank account. Instead, the scammers drain consumers' accounts of money and disappear. Or bogus e-mail may appear to be from government agencies and ask for information to "verify" that you qualify for a payment. The scammers use that information to commit identity theft. Some e-mail scams don't ask for information, but provide links to find out how to qualify for funds. By clicking on the links, consumers have downloaded malicious software or spyware that can be used to make them a victim of identity theft.
"Web sites may advertise that they can help you get money from the stimulus fund. Many use deceptive names or images of President Obama and Vice President Biden to suggest they are legitimate. They're not," says Eileen Harrington, Acting Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "Don't fall for it. If you do, you'll get scammed."
Some sites suggest that for a small sum of money - as little as $1.99 in some cases - consumers can get a list of economic stimulus grants they can apply for. But two things can happen: the number of the credit card the consumer uses to pay the fee can fall into the hands of scam artists, or the $1.99 can be the down payment on a "negative option" agreement that may cost hundreds or thousands of dollars if the consumer does not cancel.
"Consumers who may already have fallen for these scams should carefully check their credit card bills for unauthorized charges and report the scam to the FTC," Harrington said.
The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC's online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 1,500 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC's Web site provides free information on a variety of consumer topics.
Paying for College
Financial aid for college is a hot topic these days. The administration has made it clear that both higher education and finding the money to pay for it are a top priority. Good timing, too, since career changes and the development of new skill sets always rise when the economy itself is shifting. Congress increased funds for the Pell Grant program— but most college programs cost more than the average Pell Grant. Where can students find the rest of the money they need?
Well, StudentAdvisor isn't a college funding provider, but our financial aid resources may be able to help you with ideas about where and how to find grants and scholarships. Please read our new, free digital magazine on everything FAFSA
The Truth about Financial Aid
The reality about paying for school is that there is usually no one chunk of financial assistance that will cover all your education costs. For many students, the money required for tuition, fees, books, a computer, and other education-related charges will have to come from a combination of financial aid sources. With some tips on how to find grants and scholarships, however, you may be able to piece together the education funding you need without having to rely heavily on student loans.
FAFSA First for Federal Grants and Scholarships
The first thing you should do is fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA — as soon as possible. The FAFSA is the application required for both need-based and merit-based federal grants, including the Pell Grant, the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG), the Teach Grant, the Academic Competitiveness Grant, and the National SMART Grant. Once you successfully submit a FAFSA, your eligibility for a Pell Grant is determined automatically. If you qualify for one, you'll be notified. It doesn't matter how old you are; there is no age limit on Pell eligibility.
How to Find State Grants and Scholarships
The FAFSA is also required for getting financial aid from your state. Most states offer need-based and merit-based grants for college. Check your state higher education agency to find out which grant and scholarship programs you may qualify for.
Grants and Scholarships Databases
There are a number of free online databases for students wondering how to find grants and scholarships. One of the largest is the database maintained by the Department of Education. The grants and scholarships listed in this database are offered primarily by individual schools, private for-profit and nonprofit companies, charitable foundations, and similar institutions. Just enter keywords that are most relevant to you as a type of student or your planned course of study as a program type to see if there are education awards for which you may be eligible.
Watch Out for Grant and Scholarship Scams
Any grant or scholarship "service" that asks you for a fee in order to submit an application for you, who charges you for government information (which is free on the federal student aid site), or who tells you that they only need your credit card number or bank account number in order to process the grant or scholarship you've somehow already won (without even applying), is a service to stay away from! Read more about grant scams and scholarship scams.
For more information on college scholarships and grants please read our free digital magazines: