It’s easy to get caught up in the media hype about college costs. Many families become discouraged and resign themselves to the fact that college is simply not affordable. To that, we say, “Not true.” If you are willing to fill out the necessary paperwork and to be open-minded about the definition of a “good school,” you have options:
All colleges are willing to consider whether or not a family has demonstrated financial need. This is done by submitting the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and/or the CSS (College Scholarship Service) and providing current tax returns. Invasive? Yes. Worth it? Also yes. These forms allow colleges to put together a package of financial aid that may include scholarships (free money) as well as loans and work study options. If you don’t fill out the forms, you won’t be considered.
Not all schools will provide a package that covers 100% of your demonstrated need. Among those that do, few schools promise to meet all of a family’s need without including loans in the award. Typically, the offer is a mixed bag. Despite these limitations, if you have need, the sticker price is not your final price.
For guidance on filling out these forms, check out Khan Academy.
Institutional Merit Aid
If a student has distinguished herself in a particular area of study or in a non-academic endeavor, some schools will reward these achievements with merit aid. This is scholarship money that is NOT based on need. Not every college does this. In fact, some offer no merit aid at all. Still, many colleges DO! The key is to know which ones.
Once a student has made a preliminary college list, information on merit awards will be available on each college’s website. It may take some digging, but the policy is there. If a school offers merit aid, they may do so based simply on grades and scores. Others use subjective measures of talent and achievement. Students may have to fill out additional applications and/or write another essay--a small price to pay for help with college expenses.
But what if the schools on your list do not offer merit aid? And what if your family, despite not being able to demonstrate need, will still have difficulty footing your college bill? It’s simple – you need to revise your list. There are a number of wonderful colleges out there willing to reward a student’s performance. The problem is, you haven’t heard of them…yet.
In our experience, once we break the reputation barrier, and introduce families and students to lesser-known schools offering top-notch educations, they will find additional money coming their way.
Have you ever heard of Cornell College (in Iowa), The University of Puget Sound, or Willamette? We’re guessing you haven’t. These are just three of many schools that offered recent graduates $20,000 or more per year in scholarship money. They are also schools where students can thrive.
To quickly check whether or not a school offers merit aid, you can search CollegeData.com , enter a college name and then click on the “money matters” section for that school.
Merit Aid From Independent Sources
There are thousands of scholarships offered by independent sources. Companies, special interest groups, and religious organizations are just a few of the options available. These awards are often on the smaller side - $500 to $1000. To some students, it hardly seems worth applying for them. We respectfully disagree. (Actually, we just disagree.) Dedicating a moderate amount of time to researching and applying for such awards can free up other funds for travel, books, and other living expenses. Get a few of these awards and suddenly the dollars add up.
For information on where to find scholarships of all kinds, check out Cappex.com.
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