Financial Aid: What, When & How?

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The saying “nothing in life is free” is all too bitterly true in college. Forget the angst of picking a school and adjusting to it… Sometimes the biggest, earliest hurdle is paying for school in the first place!  "The stalled economy has increased demand for aid," education spokesman Andre Maglione told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "Over the last couple of years, more people have been seeking [aid] and been eligible.” Thankfully, there are plenty of places to get it.

Erika Marin, a rising senior at Smith College, fills out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid annually. The program determines a student’s eligibility for financial aid based on their current situation, and must be filled out before January. “I applied when we were seniors in high school. There was no guarantee, but it worked out and they gave me a lot of support.” Other services are school-based, like the Academic Competitiveness Grant. This provides $750 for the first year of study and $1,300 for the second—but nothing beyond that point. Early action is crucial. “I think applying for aid [for the first time] when you’re a junior is a mistake,” says Marin. “Knowing how to handle your finances before going to college is important, because even if your parents can support you, you never know what will happen in the future.”

Towson senior Maddy Hale turned to the Stafford Loan. “It’s federally subsidized,” she explains, “so I won’t have to pay for it until six months after I graduate. I started from the beginning. Getting a job was also a priority, so I made sure to get work-study.” Helen Diagama, a rising senior at Brown, applied for financial aid as a high school senior, though her college automatically pays for whatever students cannot.

DISCLAIMER: Being a college junior or senior doesn’t rule you out for aid and scholarships. Your financial situation can change at any time, and college boards and scholarship programs know this full well. Plenty of programs out there welcome upper class students. The Harry S. Truman Scholarship, for instance, is aimed at grad-school preparation, and many corporate scholarships want to reach out to as many students as possible. Nevertheless, early action has never hurt anyone, and neither has a monetary helping hand.

In the meantime, check out these Top 5 Scholarships You May Not Have Heard Of:

1) Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship

This sends a couple of bucks the way of students looking to pursue the sciences.

2) Golden Key Honor Society

Helps students who have exceptional academics and leadership skills.

3) Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship

Over 700 scholarships awarded to students by the Rotary Foundation.

4) Gates Millennium Scholars

Money given to minority students by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

5) Akash Kuruvilla Memorial Scholarship

Weighed by financial need and the quality of an essay on how the American Dream has affected you and your family.

Senior > English > Goucher University

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