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College Admissions: 5 Things You Need to Know About Financial Aid

Monday, October 08, 2012

 

It may seem early in the college process, but now is the time to begin work on financial aid. Here's how to get started.

If you have a student applying to college this fall, you need to be filling out financial aid forms and filing them now. Many colleges require the CSS Profile, FAFSA or their own form when you submit your

applications. Waiting will mean you miss out on important grants, scholarships and loans. So, here is what you need to know up front so that you don’t miss out on any opportunities:

First, there are 5 primary sources of financial aid for college- the federal government, the state government where you reside, colleges, private loans and scholarship sources.

Colleges

Many families incorrectly assume that their state university is the only financially viable option for college. However, students with reasonably good grades can often receive generous financial aid at private colleges, making that option less expensive. The aid can be based on need, merit, leadership or special talents like sports or music. Students will usually see the most merit aid at reasonable and backup colleges (rather than stretch schools). These colleges are looking for higher GPAs and SATs to raise their average entering freshmen stats. Application processes for college-based aid vary, and you need to check each college website for information. However, many private colleges use the CSS Profile which must be filed at the time that you submit your application (or in some cases within a few weeks). Parents often forget to submit this important form during early admissions in the fall and miss out on significant aid opportunities. For more go here

The Federal Government

Uncle Sam provides both loans and grants based on demonstrated financial need. In order to apply for a Stafford loan, Pell grant or other federally based money, you will need to fill out and submit a FAFSA form  . This form may also be required at some colleges for college based need aid or merit aid. Deadlines vary and you need to check each college website to determine when you will need to file the FAFSA. If you want to plan ahead to determine your EFC (expected family contribution, or the amount that colleges will expect you to pay each year), you can do a rough calculation here.

State Government

Your state government may provide scholarships and need-based aid. In some cases the money distributed by the state must be used at an in-state school, and in other cases you can use it at a college out of state. For Rhode Island resident information, visit www.riheaa.org and for Massachusetts residents, go to www.mefa.org. In my opinion, one of the most underutilized scholarship programs is the New England Board of Higher Education program which allows students to attend a university in another New England state at a deep discount if they are pursuing a major not offered in their home state.

Private Loan Programs

Parents and students can also access a variety of college loans through the Sallie Mae and PLUS programs as well as banks like Chase.

Private Scholarships

From the Rotary Club to your employer and a host of private foundations, scholarship money is plentiful. However, there are a few obstacles. The first is finding the scholarships. You should NEVER pay an agency or individual to find you scholarship money; most entities that do this are unscrupulous. Start with a good free search engine like FastWeb. Then be prepared for obstacle number two: endless essays to qualify. Once you have gotten the money, understand that you MUST report it to your college and you financial aid package may be reduced by the amount of the award.

It’s a lot of work to finance a college education these days, but the programs do exist. Start early and tap all your resources for the best results!

Cristiana Quinn, M.Ed. is the founder of College Admission Advisors, LLC which provides strategic, college counseling and athletic recruiting services for students. www.collegeadvisorsonline.com.

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