Locating financial aid
Financial aid is money to help meet the cost of education and training. The money for financial aid comes from federal and state governments, banks, schools themselves, and private donors. Your students must apply for financial aid to get it.
Most of the aid that students receive comes through the financial aid program at the school they attend. Your children must apply for aid separately from admission to the school. The school bases the amount and kind of aid they get on financial need. Their academic record and the kinds of aid available at the school they attend may also be factors.
What kinds of financial aid are there?
There are four main types of financial aid:
- Grants and Scholarships. Although the terms "grant" and "scholarship" are sometimes used interchangeably, grant usually refers to an award based on financial need, whereas scholarship usually refers to an award based on academic merit. You are not required to pay back grant or scholarship money received.
- Loans. Loans are financial aid that must eventually be repaid. Interest rates and the amount of time allowable for repayment vary with each loan.
- Work-study programs.
Work programs provide employment opportunities to help pay for college.
Financial aid is also available by joining the military.
How much financial aid can your child get?
All colleges and universities and many private career schools provide financial aid to students who need help paying for their education. When your children apply for financial aid, the school determines the amount you and your children are expected to contribute and compares that to the amount it estimates for tuition, fees, books, and living expenses. If the expected family contribution (referred to as your EFC) does not cover all of the expected educational expenses, the school will attempt to make up the difference with financial aid.
The American Council on Education's Web site, http://www.acenet.edu/Pages/default.aspx, provides an excellent summary of basic facts about college prices and student aid. You can get an estimate of your EFC by using an online calculator. One such calculator is available at http://www.act.org/fane/index.html.
Financial aid is also available through sources other than the school's own financial aid program. For this type of aid, your students apply directly to the sponsoring organizations or their administering agencies. The Oregon Career Information System (CIS), which is available through most middle and high schools in Oregon and through many public libraries, includes information about this type of financial aid. Ask the school counselor, librarian, or career center staff about how you can access it. (CIS is a password protected site; however, you can learn more about it at http://oregoncis.uoregon.edu/.) The Oregon Scholarship Commission lists all of the awards it administers for Oregon students at https://oregonstudentaid.gov/scholarships.aspx.
What are the steps in applying for and getting financial aid?
Applying for financial aid is a process that requires planning and organization for both you and your children. You need to work with your children to start early. Keep records of everything that you do. It is a good idea to have a calendar and set deadlines for yourself and your students in the application process.
The steps below assume that your student is entering school in the fall term. Students entering school during other times also need to complete the FAFSA as soon possible after January 1 of the year they are entering school. (Check with the financial aid office to obtain deadlines. Apply early because mid-year funds may be limited.)
In the fall one year before your child will enter school:
- Once your children select schools of interest, they should write or call the admissions office at each school. They should ask about financial aid possibilities and application procedures, deadlines, and tests required for admission. (They may need to complete as many as three applications: one for admission to the school, another for federal and state financial aid, and another for school scholarships.)
- Estimate the cost of attending each of the schools. Most school Web sites have information that you can use to do this within their financial aid information.
- Begin compiling the family financial information needed to fill out the FAFSA and the schools' financial aid applications. This includes income tax information for current tax year, information on non-taxable income, and information on assets. The financial information required is similar to the information needed when applying for a bank loan or completing a federal tax return.
- Your children can also search for scholarships that are not specific to the school(s) of interest. Oregon students should be aware of scholarships administered by the Oregon Student Assistance Commission. Oregon Career Information System (CIS) is a good resource for locating these and other local and national scholarships.
- Attend your high school's financial aid night if one is offered. Students and parents can learn about aid sources and procedures at these workshops.
- Encourage your children to apply early for scholarships for which they qualify. Many scholarship programs have deadlines in the fall or early spring. They should not apply for a scholarship if they do not meet the requirements. Make sure they proofread their applications carefully. They should also keep copies of the letters they send and the application forms that they fill out. They can refer to them the next time they request information or apply for a scholarship.
Soon after January 1:
- You and your children will need complete
the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Submit the FAFSA as soon
after January 1 as possible:
a) Online at http://www.fafsa.ed.gov
b) On paper, using the application that is available from high school counseling offices or college financial aid offices.
When your children submit the FAFSA for processing, be sure to check that they want the information sent to your state scholarship agency to apply for state programs. Also list the schools they wish to attend. Use estimated tax information if necessary. If you estimate the financial information you and your children report, you will have to prove the accuracy of the estimate before they are awarded aid. If they apply early, they will have a much better chance of receiving financial aid. The application will not be accepted before January 1, however, so do not submit it before this date.
- For Oregon residents, complete the Oregon Student Assistance Commission (OSAC) aid application by March 1. To apply online, visit the OSAC scholarship homepage at http://www.getcollegefunds.org/index.html
- Some schools may request additional information from you such as copies of federal tax returns. Learn what each school requires and provide the information by the deadlines.
In the spring:
- Along with acceptance letters, each school will tell your children whether they will give them financial aid. They also will explain how much grant, loan, or work-study money they can offer. Financial aid packages can sometimes be adjusted if your financial situation warrants it. If your family has some special circumstances that you feel impact your ability to finance your children's education, let the school know. It may be possible to adjust your package based on unusual circumstances.
- Tell each school your plans in writing, whether you accept their financial aid packages or not.
Each January, if your children are planning to be in school the next year, they must apply for financial aid again. They must reapply each year.
What about athletic scholarships?
If your children have what it takes to be a college athlete, don't wait until their senior year to start the process of obtaining an athletic scholarship. College coaches want to know where the talent is as early as possible so they can build files on athletes and watch them in action. Encourage your children to follow the timeline below to improve their chances of getting a scholarship:
- Concentrate on following a solid high school curriculum.
- Talk to your high school or club coach or athletic director about your goals.
- Establish a schedule that allows time for academics and athletics.
- Research NCAA academic requirements at http://www.ncaa.org.
- Make sure that you are "on target" for all core high school requirements. Continue striving for academic success.
- Stay active in your sport, even during the summer.
- Prepare an athletic resume that details your experience and achievements. Complete it during the summer before your junior year.
- Begin to identify colleges you would like to attend. You might consider attending a summer camp in your sport at the college.
- Continue to make your academic studies your top priority. Review the NCAA requirements to ensure they have not changed.
- Send a letter of introduction to coaches of colleges that interest you at the start of your sport's season. Include your resume and your playing schedule. (If a schedule is not available, include it in a follow-up letter as soon as possible.)
- Register with the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Initial Eligibility Clearinghouse at http://www.ncaa.org/student-athletes/play-division-i-sports.
- Request that your ACT and/or SAT scores be sent to the NCAA Eligibility Clearinghouse.
- Keep investigating other colleges and send out additional resumes.
- Prepare a videotape of yourself in action in case colleges request it.
- Send updates to colleges of interest as your season closes. Include your new stats and any special recognition you may have earned.
- Make unofficial visits to schools that interest you, if possible.
- Try to watch some local college games in your sport, especially if one of the schools that interests you is playing.
- Update your academic information with the Clearinghouse in July after your junior year. If your top colleges have not panned out, send information to your second- and third-tier choices.
- Continue to do your best academically. Avoid "senioritis!" Review your core course requirements with your high school counselor.
- Send your senior athletic schedule to colleges of interest as soon as it is available. Keep college coaches posted on any changes or updates to your team schedule.
- Send your resume to any school that expresses interest in you.
- Contact the NCAA to learn when your sport requires you to sign a Letter of Intent to attend a particular college.
- Take advantage of any paid visits to colleges, if offered.
- Ask a lot of questions and weigh all the advantages and disadvantages of the schools that interest you before making your decision.
- Congratulate yourself for doing your best whether or not you get a scholarship. If you didn't get one, remember that many colleges allow students to "walk on" and try out for teams.
Parts of this information were adapted
from the Oregon
Career Information System (CIS) with permission.