Unless you (or your parents) happen to be Warren Buffet or related to Bill Gates, you’ll probably be spending a good chunk of time your junior and senior years looking for financial aid for college. Here’s a few quick steps to jump-start your plan!
When you get your financial aid package from your school of choice, think of it as an opening bid in a negotiation. Your financial aid package is at the discretion of a few people who genuinely want to help you attend their institution. Don’t be afraid to contact them and explain your financial situation. I was able to get more grant money added to my financial aid package this way, and I know many others who were able to as well!
2. Look outside your school for cash.
Outside of your intended alma mater, there is no shortage of scholarships. The website Fast Web is the place to help you get started! There are scholarships available to you at the local, state and national level. It may take time to find ones that are worth your time (some require hefty applications or essays) but if you walk away with an extra $5,000 or more, it’s definitely worth it! Make a list of the “Top 10” you’d like to apply for, and get them done within a reasonable time-frame. Just like applying to college, you should try to divide them into “safety,” “reach,” and “likely” categories, based on their competitiveness and how well your profile matches who they’re looking for.
3. Know whether you’ll get the money directly.
For each scholarship, note whether the money is awarded directly to the recipient or if it is sent to the school. Many schools will decrease their financial aid packages proportionally with the amount of outside scholarship you receive (which can be a major bummer). If that’s the case, call your school’s FinAid dept and ask if they’ll decrease the amount of loans first before they take away some of your grant money. It’s worth asking!
4. Understand that all loans are not created equal.
If loans are going to be part of your FinAid package, do some research on which type you’d like to take on – the interest rates vary widely! Federal loans are usually the best way to go since they can offer deferment of interest and a lower rate than most banks. A subsidized loan means that the government will pay the interest on it while you’re enrolled. A federal Perkins loan is for students with extreme financial need. Usually they do not accrue interest for 9 months after graduation and have extremely low interest rates.
Finally, many of the items you’ll need for scholarships you will already be obtaining anyway for your graduate applications: transcripts, resumes, and personal statements. Make sure you have plenty of copies of these documents at your disposal so that you won’t run out as you go after your financial aid! Good luck!
Vivian Kerr is a regular contributor to the Veritas Prep blog, providing advice to help students better prepare for the GMAT and the SAT.