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10 Things You Should Know When Applying for Financial Aid
From the MCG 2011 edition
- DETERMINE YOUR FAMILY'S FINANCIAL SITUATION.
Have a frank discussion with your family about money. Are your parents willing and able to pay for college and, if so, how much are they willing to pay? What are your expectations?
- KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MERIT-BASED AND NEED-BASED AID.
There are two different types of financial aid: merit-based and need-based. Merit-based aid, such as scholarships, is awarded to a student based on his/her accomplishments and not financial need. Need-based financial aid, on the other hand, is awarded to a student based on the student's/family's ability to pay.
- FIND OUT WHAT MERIT CAN DO FOR YOU.
Ask your guidance counselor for a list of local scholarships, including those offered by your state, as well as those from local organizations. Colleges and universities also typically list available merit scholarships for incoming freshmen on their websites. Many websites, such as Fastweb.com and Scholarships.com, can help you locate the types of scholarships you qualify for.
- UNDERSTAND LOANS, GRANTS AND WORK-STUDY.
Need-based aid includes the following three categories: (1) grants, which are typically awarded on the basis of financial need and don't require repayment; (2) federal loans, which are based on need and do require repayment once you graduate; and (3) federal work-study, which provides part-time employment to students to help with college expenses.
- COMPLETE THE FAFSA.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is used for determining federal, state and institutional need-based aid eligibility. If you're applying for any kind of need-based aid, you must fill out the FAFSA form (www.fafsa.ed.gov). At private institutions, a supplemental application may be necessary.
- NEED MORE AID? APPLY FOR A PRIVATE LOAN.
If your other options don't get you as much financial aid as you actually need, private loans can help cover additional expenses (but at a higher interest rate). Exhaust other resources first.
- WATCH THOSE DEADLINES.
Many applications have early deadlines; make sure you know when applications are due. For instance, if you're planning to attend college in the fall, fill out the FAFSA in January. (It won't be accepted before January 1, but get it in as soon as you can after the first.)
- COLLEGES WANT TO HELP.
Given the state of the economy, financial aid officers are working hard to accommodate all financial situations. To make the process easier, many colleges are sending out award letters as soon as possible, or posting the information online.
- IT MAY NOT BE THEIR FINAL OFFER.
If a college's financial aid award isn't as much as you need, contact the financial aid office and ask what other options are available. Some schools make adjustments to the financial aid formula on a case-by-case basis.
- DON'T BASE YOUR DECISION ON FINANCES ALONE.
Ultimately, you want to choose the college that's the best fit for you. A college education is one of the best investments you can make (even if you do end up with loans).
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