By Helen Nunn, Special to StudentAdvisor.com
The U.S. Department of Education provides approximately $100 billion a year in government student aid for college. Two-thirds of students receive at least some financial aid today, so it’s important to know where to look.
1. Identify the colleges which best meet your academic, extracurricular and geographic criteria. Investigate schools which represent a range of costs but do not let higher costs keep you from seeking admission.
2. Understand the difference between scholarships and need-based financial aid. Merit-based scholarship aid may be awarded to students with exceptional abilities in academic, music or other areas. Need-based aid is available to students whose families need help in meeting college costs. Most schools, but not all, offer both types.
3. Find out what types of aid are available at the schools you like best, which aid application forms are required, and the deadline for each school. College and university catalogs, financial aid brochures and Web sites, and admissions and financial aid staff are your best resources for this kind of information.
4. Don’t rule out private colleges because they may seem to cost more. The chance that your financial need will be met is actually greater at a private college or university because many state-supported schools cannot offer as many financial aid options.
5. Apply for the types of aid that best fit YOU. Everyone’s situation is different and everyone’s financial aid experience is too. Don’t exclude yourself from the process because your neighbor didn’t qualify for scholarships or other forms of financial aid.
6. Consider the final cost to you rather than the listed price of the school. Understand how much of your expense can be met through financial aid programs. At many schools, the majority of students pay less than the listed price thanks to financial aid.
7. Compare the aid packages, or the combination of scholarships, grants, loans and work-study awards, that you receive from different schools. Be sure that in each case you understand your family’s bottom line cost for the year, the amount of loans and the amount granted through student employment.
8. Notify the Office of Financial Aid if there is a change in your family’s financial status in 2010. A financial aid package can be adjusted, even after the academic year begins, but the office can only consider special circumstances if they have the new information. Keep the lines of communication open.
9. Investigate other kinds of long-term, low-interest loans and monthly payment plans. There are a number of opportunities for parents to borrow or to spread their payments out over the course of the year or over as many as 10 years. Be sure to check out federal loans with tax-deductible interest.
10. Select the college that offers you the best long-term value for the price and where your educational needs will best be met. Work and save as much as you can to achieve your goal.
Have some financial aid tips or advice? Comment & share below!