Free Money (but it does take some work)!

Can anyone really go to college for free? Is such a thing even possible? We’ve all heard the story of students who have gotten a “free ride” at X, Y or Z college or university, but is that really the case? Can you get a free ride anywhere?

The scholarship search begins…

I’ve been reading Ben Kaplan’s How to go to college almost for free: the secrets of winning scholarship money (for those few of you who are not amazon fans, my apologies for the sales link). Ben does a fairly good job of describing the aid system, although most of the information is available for free on-line. What I find interesting about Ben’s story is how much money and how many different awards he received from other sources to attend school. Ben does a very good job of describing his scholarship discovery, targeting and application process in his book, and explains how others can benefit from his methods. Let me be very clear: Ben won many talent competitions and other scholarship awards and he invested a great deal of time in the process. But it paid off for him.

Can it pay off for you? Well, first of all realize that the last thing that a scholarship from another source will impact is your family’s contribution toward your college expenses. We will talk about this in another post later on the blog, but keep in mind that if you receive a scholarship or grant from another source, most colleges will start by reducing your unmet financial need, then they will reduce loan and work before they touch any grant or scholarship awards (although each institution may do something different).

But given this, any money you bring in from outside scholarship or grant programs can certainly help.

So when do you need to start the application process? NOW!!! I would advise that anyone who is interested in looking to other sources for scholarship or grant should be looking on-line now to see if there are any programs with which you match. You can do this for free by creating an account at FastWeb, as well as some other scholarship sites. By entering some basic biographical information, these search engines will try to match you with scholarship programs you may be able to apply for, and provide deadlines and application processes for them. NOW is absolutely the right time to do this. Many of these programs have early deadlines, so time is of the essence.

Now, will you be able to go to school for free? For most of you, even if you are awarded one, two, three or no scholarships from other sources, the answer to this question will be no. I will say that if you are from a low-income family, your Financial Aid Officer will do everything she can to make the cost of college affordable for you, even if that means no contribution from you or your parents, but the reality is that most of you will have to contribute something to make your dream of a college education a reality.

But even so, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try; how’s that for a double negative?

Good luck in your search process and look here for more updates!

Applying Yourself Part 4: College 101 – Where the Money I$

Most college courses have a number as part of the course title. The course number is a shortcut to telling you how complicated the course is; the higher the number, the more complicated. Courses with a 101 (or 1001) number are, therefore, the most basic.

So far we have stayed at the 101 level. Has the information been helpful? Are you ready to dive into the next level of information about financial aid?

Before we do, though, we need to finish our application series. There is one more type of financial aid application and that is the college or unversity’s financial aid (or scholarship) application.

Do you need money for college? Ask the college!

Many of you may not realize this, but colleges and universities are the largest source of grants and scholarships for undergraduate students in the United States. According to the College Board’s publication Trends in Student Aid, the more than 26% of the money available to students in total financial aid (including loans, grants and work awards) comes from colleges and universities. This compares to 15% from the Federal Pell Grant, and 6% (each) from State Grants and Veterans Benefits. Private scholarships provide only 7% of the total aid to students each year. Do the math and you will see that you need to think about colleges and universities as a source for financial aid.

So how do you apply for financial aid from colleges and universities? The answer, sadly, is “it depends”. But your friend moneyman is here to explain how to work with the system.

Some colleges use the FAFSA to determine their own institutional financial aid while some colleges use the College Board’s CSS Financial Aid Profile. If you have been following along (and if not, quick read the old posts), you have covered these colleges. But some others may have their own financial aid application forms.

For example, my current employer suggests that students complete an institutional scholarship application. While you can qualify for Federal or State financial aid without completing this form, there are many institutional grants and scholarships which rely upon this application (and if you do not complete the application, you will not qualify).

Some other colleges who do not use the CSS Profile may ask every student to complete a financial aid application form available for download at their institutional web site. In this case, the form often is used to match students to prospective scholarships (or to collect information in a free format which is then used to award institutional funds).

And still other colleges may need no application form from you at all other than your admissions application, but will use the information from your academic record to award you an institutional merit-based scholarship. In these cases while there is no formal “institutional financial aid application,” your admissions application serves this purpose.

So, in short, you need to ask your college or university if they have a financial aid application, and if they do, complete it.

So in summary you can see that a complete financial aid application includes four types of forms:

  • the FAFSA
  • the CSS Financial Aid Profile
  • your state’s financial aid application
  • your college’s financial aid application

Only be completing all of these applications will you have a completed financial aid application. Well… sort of.

I guess it’s time to talk about private (or outside) scholarships. Look for that in my next post.

Applying Yourself Part 3: The Revenge of the State

I know, I know, I love sequels. Be it Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, or even Toy Story, once you get me hooked on a story, I am all in. The action gets even better as you dive deeper into the story.

While this may not be exactly the case when it comes to financial aid, it is true that your application process is definitely a 4-parter. Tonight we come to the next part of your financial aid process: the State application.

In Florida, which is where I am based, we have the Florida Financial Aid Application (FFAA).

Money in Florida – We have Some!

Florida’s largest financial aid program offered by the State is the Bright Futures program, but it is a merit-based program and is limited to students who meet the SAT, GPA and community service hours. For those who qualify, it can be a fantastic program — paying the full cost of tuition and fees at any state college or university in Florida, and a similar amount for students attending a private college. But if you don’t qualify, many students make the mistake of assuming that Bright Futures is the only program that Florida offers.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. Florida offers 12 scholarship and grant programs and 1 work program and most of them are not based on GPA or SAT.

But the most important thing to note is that you have to apply for these programs using the FFAA. The application MUST be completed during the student’s senior year of high school and can be done online.

Lots of great information on the eligibility rules and requirements can be found on the Florida OSFA webpage. We’ll also spend some time in future posts talking about these programs in greater detail. But for now, trust Moneyman. Get your Florida Financial Aid Application done.

And if you don’t live in Florida, make sure to look at your state’s requirements for its financial aid programs. Each state does things a little differently (some even let you take your scholarship money out of state with you).

And no matter what you do, stay tuned for the sequel. One more chapter is coming and it is sure to be a moneymaker!