Each college or university has its own process for doling out financial aid money, and it isn’t always dependent on your ACT scores! Even if you receive what you’d consider a bad ACT score, you can still receive significant financial aid based on sports, academics, cultural heritage, and a plethora of other factors (including persistence!). Here are ten tips to get the most financial aid possible and make your dream of attending that expensive undergrad program a reality!
Look for smaller scholarships in your town. Many service organizations in your hometown may offer scholarships to local students. It may not seem like much, but $1,000 here and $2,000 here can really add up! Meet with your guidance counselor and ask for information on local scholarships first.
Call the Application Office of your dream school! Ask for a referral to someone in the Financial Aid department. Don’t be afraid to “stalk” (in a nice way) that person a little bit through email, phone calls, and social networking. Be pleasant, but persistent. Explain your situation and ask them for advice. Make a friend!
Remember that not all loans are the same (or even worth taking). Some loans will offer deferment of interest and lower rates based on your family income. Subsidized loans mean that the government will pay the interest on it while the student is enrolled. Unsubsidized loans require the student to be responsible for the entire amount of interest.
Apply to get your ACT fee waived. Did you know you don’t necessarily have to pay to apply to college, or even to take the ACT? You can apply to waive the ACT fee here: http://www.actstudent.org/faq/answers/feewaiver.html. If you’re taking the SAT as well, and if you’ve participated in the Program Fee-Waiver Service, you may also be eligible to waive application fees at the colleges to which you’re applying. Check out Collegeboard for a directory of participating schools. That’s like getting free money for college before you’ve even finished your college application!
Get the FAFSA early. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (known as the FAFSA) is a requirement for most schools to process a Financial Aid Application. The application is available after January 1st of each year online (http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/). Your parents may need to estimate their income for the rest of the fiscal year, so give them plenty of notice to gather the information they’ll need to give you the right numbers.
Ask for more grant money! Think of your financial aid package as an opening bid in a negotiation; you don’t have to settle for the first package you’re offered. Your financial aid package is at the discretion of a few people who genuinely want to help you attend their institution. Don’t be afraid to contact them and explain your financial situation.
Search for independent scholarships online. There is no shortage of scholarships out there. They range from the incredibly prestigious with hefty gift amounts in the high thousands to the downright silly. There are scholarships at the local, state and national level. It will take awhile to find ones that are worth your time but online research is a great place to start. Check out College Board’s Scholarship Search (http://apps.collegeboard.com/cbsearch_ss/welcome.jsp) and Fast Web (www.fastweb.com). Both sites offer searchable databases of scholarships which will help match scholarships to your online profile.
Find out whether you need to do the CSS Profile. CSS is short for the College Scholarship Service Profile and it is more detailed than the FAFSA. If you are applying to schools for Early Decision you will most likely have to fill out the CSS Profile since the FAFSA is not available until the New Year.
Learn the policies of your dream school regarding independent grant money. Many schools will decrease their financial aid packages proportionally with the amount of outside scholarship you receive. Call your schools and see what their policies are – will they decrease the amount of loans first before they take away some of your grant money?
Have lots of extra transcripts, resumes, and essays ready to go. Many of the items you’ll need for scholarships you will already be obtaining anyway for your college applications. Make sure you have plenty of copies at your disposal so that you won’t run out and have to scramble to meet deadlines.