Are you FIN-ally done with FIN-ancial aid?

Unless you have a checkbook as thick as the biology textbook you’ll be purchasing for BIO 101, chances are you’ll be counting on and hoping for financial assistance. What is it, and how do you attempt to get it? That’s a good question and perhaps the key to finishing your degree with more knowledge, skills and personal growth than student debt.

FAFSA is the heart of need-based assistance. Need-based assistance is that chunk of change (or more than mere coinage with any luck and lower income reports).  Sign up at  If you end up at a similar website that is asking you for money instead of helping you find money, you are at a commercial clone of a website that merely becomes a middle man that pays himself first.

Once there, you will want to Request a Pin. Both you AND a parent must receive your own pin. That pin will be your electronic signature saying the information that was submitted is accurate. Because you must confirm you will not share it with anyone, any incorrect information found during routine audits cannot be blamed on someone else entering your information.

Once received, you can use your pin to finish your sections as a student while parents do likewise with their sections. After that, all the secret ingredients, figures and formulas are gently shaken but not stirred. The magic wand is waved, and an SAR is born featuring a newly listed EFC. A high EFC suggests you are wealthier than you may have guessed. A low EFC or once indicating a $0 will conjure up calls for Pell Grants—money that does NOT need to be repaid.

This information must be made known to any schools to which you are applying. Any eligible need based money then flows through the school you ultimately attend. They will use that to calculate how much you can receive in grants, subsidized loans, unsubsidized loans, and work study while enrolled full-time.

Grants are like scholarships in that they do not need to be repaid. Work-study is yours as well, but you must hold an eligible job at the university or a university-approved location. Hours are limited so as not to interfere with your primary job: student. Subsidized loans must be repaid, but interest is paid while you are in college. Unsubsidized loans need not be repaid until after graduation, but interest is accruing all the time that the loan is in a deferred status. You must see who the responsible party is. Some loans (Parent Plus) make the parent responsible for the loan, while others handcuff themselves to the student (most of them).

Some schools have additional forms to supplement the FAFSA. They may ask about monthly expense not listed on the FAFSA which really deals primarily with annual totals related to income.  All forms must be completed, received and evaluated before your complete Award Letter can be generated.

If you are a star athlete, need-based assistance may not be necessary IF you have the necessary records in the desired sports and can show admission officers the necessary grades, coursework and test scores to secure enrollment.  Check the lists in the back of the College books listing all the schools in the country. An index in the back shows which schools have scholarship dollars to award in various sports. This can be a helpful guide for someone who puts sports very high on their priority list.

Merit awards are like athletic scholarships in that they need not be repaid. Students should ask if full tuition or lofty scholarships are available just by virtue of a strong admission application or if they must submit a special application tor such an award. Finally, see what application deadlines are sacred for those seeking additional scholarships. Some schools boast a later application deadline for those seeking admission with no consideration for merit aid, but use an earlier one like November 30 if you want to be considered for non-need-based aid. Watch those deadlines.

If you want to supplement those awards, thousands of websites exist to find hundreds of thousands of scholarships and awards that can be used to supplement the money offered by a college.  Most want essays, transcripts, letters of recommendation and completed application forms. Watch their deadlines since most are final and unflinching.

Calendars, Internet and word processors are the keys to many of these awards. Use them wisely and well, and student debt may be a small part of the stress college can offer. Do not be afraid to seek awards for merit, athletics and need. Combinations can come together to make a healthier award package. Good luck on assembling the finances to make your school dreams a reality.

Robert McClory

2010 Finalist for School Counselor of the Year (American School Counselor Association)

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