Questions about how to afford college? The world of scholarships truly is vast, so we understand the feeling of needing assistance! To make the most of the precious time you have, you’ll need to know the basics. In this article, we’re here to ensure you don’t miss out on a few important dates and deadlines. We bring you financial aid and scholarship reminders to stay on track.
Who’s the Expert Here?
The Research Team at Empowerly is a community of trained experts who have been in your shoes. These researchers can find you a list of individual options related to your personal interests. They can also help find a few customized databases that you can search on your own.
If you’re looking for the human touch to help you interpret your college lists, you can also sign up to work with an Empowerly college counselor. The best dynamic in college admissions happens when a counseling team can simply support a student’s hard work!
We also know that high school students are busy, and you don’t have a lot of free time. If you’re seeking out a list of basics, we can provide a foundation to start you off and help you avoid common missteps.
Let’s initially review the basics of financial aid and scholarship tips to get you on the right track:
We always recommend filling out the FAFSA to ensure that all options for aid are exhausted. Unless you fill out the FAFSA, most (say 99%) universities won’t offer you financial aid, discounts/packages, and even those in-house merit scholarships (yes, FAFSA is also a requirement for many merit-based scholarships!). So, if that’s not on your radar, we suggest you start looking into it (and Empowerly’s team can help you if you get stuck!).
Submit Everything You Can.
If you already have the final list of schools you’re applying to, it doesn’t hurt to do a final check with the financial aid office to ensure you don’t miss anything the first time around (when you submit your application). Generally, applying to the school automatically considers you for the scholarships offered by the school itself.
What does “everything” mean? This includes basic application attachments as well as any financial verification forms for housing or scholarships you may need. Submit everything that is asked of you on time (even if the request comes later on). Ultimately, you don’t want to give them any reasons to let you slip through the cracks.
When searching for other sources of financial aid and scholarships, we recommend students search for scholarships as specifically as possible using keywords. This also applies to scholarship databases—and other resources, like Empowerly College Counseling.
What does that mean for you searching at home? Use the topic you’re interested in (business or engineering), your age/grade level, your location, your ethnic background, and even any topic you’d be interested in (projects, startup funding, nonprofit, etc), are all good things to include. This way, you won’t be wading through options you’re not interested in. Specificity is your friend.
Next, We’ll Dig a Little Deeper…
Let’s revisit each and how they play into your overall financial aid and scholarship strategy.
Here are two main steps to applying for financial aid:
1. Fill out your FAFSA as soon as you can (this can be a 2-ish hour-long process if you come prepared).
The FAFSA tells the government how much you can afford, and the school tells the government how much it costs to attend, and they “work together” to come up with a number of loans, scholarships, and grants to give you based on it all. This is why you fill out the FAFSA regardless of your income–it shows your schools that you’re interested in financial aid, and it allows them to communicate with the federal government about you.
If you’ve filled out the FAFSA, you usually don’t have to do anything else to be considered for aid. But not always, which is our rationale for the second step.
2. Check (or have the Research Team check for you) the schools you’re applying for to see if any of them have separate scholarship applications.
You can do this after you apply, but check that each of the schools you’re applying to doesn’t have any extra scholarship applications. Sometimes they will, and you’ll have to work through that application like any other application, but, most of the time, all the applications for aid are rolled into your FAFSA and regular application package.
A final word of wisdom:
When comparing financial aid offers at different schools, you want the most complete prediction possible of the aid you’re likely to receive from each school.
To achieve this, a few important considerations should be:
- whether the amount of aid offered is above/below average for similar schools;
- what percentage of students get some form of aid from the school;
- the percentage of students offered a scholarship [and the average amount]; and;
- the average total aid package offered [the combination of scholarships, loans, and even work-study agreements].
While it’s more work at the outset, students in the past have found this comprehensive approach more useful than the simple “percentage of need met” statistic. After all, it is FAFSA that determines how much you “need” to begin with, and they very rarely offer a full representation of how much help you need.
When you’re receiving materials from colleges and start comparing them, bear in mind that when a college advertises (because remember, they are a business!) “100% of student need is met,” they’re referring to that FAFSA number. And this number is not simply a scholarship or a discount, but also includes multiple loans, and maybe even a work-study agreement—both of which you’ll eventually need to work off later.
You can do this! For more advice and information about how to develop a college financial plan, consider working with Empowerly and SmartTrack College Funding to get started.