Many students and parents believe that certain colleges are out of reach due to the high cost of attendance, but there may be more financial aid than they realize. The key is to understand the financial aid process and to file the necessary applications.
There are two basic types of financial aid: need-based and merit aid.
Need-based aid is granted to students who meet certain financial thresholds and require financial help to attend college. This is most often determined by the FAFSA: Free Application for Federal Student Aid (fafsa.ed.gov). Parents of senior students will fill this out in January and the information will be sent to college financial aid offices to determine aid.
The two things that you can do right now are to request a PIN number so you will be ready to file, and access the FAFSA4caster, where you will provide some basic financial information and get an estimate of your eligibility for federal student aid. Need–based aid is most often seen in grants and scholarships, money that does not have to be repaid. This money can come from the federal (Pell grants) or state government (Cal grants) or directly from the college. But don’t be surprised to see work-study or loans thrown into the mix when you receive your financial aid package from colleges.
Of course, it is your option to decline any part of the package.
Merit aid is based on student accomplishments and not based on financial need. These accomplishments can include a high grade point average or exceptional talent in the areas of athletics, visual and performing arts, or debate. Merit aid may be higher at private colleges then at public colleges and universities. Our community gives many scholarships to students in Nevada County. These scholarships are free money and can be need or merit based. If you are a student in the Nevada Joint Union High School District, these scholarships are listed on the website under Academics-Scholarships. One application is used to apply to more than 150 local scholarships. The NJUHSD Scholarship Coordinator, Barb Ross (email@example.com), can be an invaluable resource in finding scholarships for college.
While no student wants to leave college with a mountain of debt, college loans may be necessary to help finance an education. The U.S. Department of Education offers subsidized loans that waive the interest while you’re in school and for six months afterwards. Students should maximize these loan options before accepting loans from private lenders.
Parents can also take out loans (PLUS) with a favorable interest rate to help pay for education costs for their undergraduate student. Be aware of scams. Financial aid resources should not charge. A good resource is fastweb.com which has the Internet’s largest free scholarship search database.
For more information on federal, state and local scholarships, plan to attend the free public Financial Aid Night at 6 p.m. Dec. 3 at Nevada Union High School in the Don Baggett Theatre. You can also find more information on my website: www.getyouintocollege.com.
Jill Haley is a retired high school counselor who worked for the Nevada Joint Union High School District for 20 years. She currently operates a college admissions consulting business and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. or at www.getyouintocollege.com.