A Student's Guide to Financial Aid: Acquiring Financial Aid That Is Right for You
Eickhoff, Jim, Diversity Employers
The task of finding a financial aid provider can often be a difficult one. There are many decisions to be made, but if you are knowledgeable and informed about student loan options, the process can be less painful. According to the College Board, families using financial aid to help finance an education, has increased by 85 percent in the last 10 years. Higher education is no longer a luxury only select families can afford, it is now accessible to all families willing to use financial aid as an option. To better understand your financial aid opportunities, there are some basic guidelines you should follow to ensure you receive the best type of financial aid for you and your circumstances.
First, select five to eight schools you are interested in attending. Select a wide range of schools so as not to limit your options and select schools with different characteristics and features. You don't want to rule anything out - a private school may have a higher tuition rate, but you will probably receive more assistance to cover tuition costs. You will also want to research the schools you are interested in attending. Find out the size of the school and attendance numbers, explore what areas the school is strong in academically and what areas they are weak, understand dorm rules and regulations and anything else that may affect your decision to attend that school. And above all, be sure to visit these schools. A school may look good on paper, but you have to see it to be sure. Most schools have web sites which prospective students can use to research their features and take a "virtual tour." If you want to see a school in person, your visit should take place during a regular school day and include a m eeting with an admissions or financial aid counselor.
The second step is to use resources you have at your disposal to learn about possible scholarships and grants. This is the best type of aid available and it is categorically referred to as 'Gift Aid,' because you are not required to pay it back after graduation. High school students should talk to guidance counselors for local scholarship opportunities. College students should contact the school's financial aid office and it will provide resources to help students find the best scholarships and grants. Talk to your family members, their places of employment may offer special scholarships for employees and their families. There are many Internet scholarship search engines available that provide helpful tips and financial aid resources. Some Internet sites to check out include www.studentloanfunding.com, www.collegeboard.org and www.theoldschool.org and you can also visit http://ericweb.tc.columbia.edu/hbcu/financial_aid/finaid.html for a listing of minority aid resources for African-American students. There a re many books with information about potential scholarships, including Peterson's Scholarships and the Black Student's Guide to Scholarships. However you choose to search for scholarships, do not pay for this type of service - there are plenty of organizations that will help you for free.
The next step is to fill out your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form. The quickest way to do this is to visit http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/. You can also visit a prospective school's financial aid office or your high school guidance counselor's office for FAFSA information. This is a form from the Department of Education that will determine how much financial aid you are entitled to receive. It is best to send in your FASFA form early, between January and February of the school year prior to enrollment. On the form, list the schools you are interested in attending. …