What To Know About Applying For College Financial Aid

(StatePoint) College is expensive, and while families should focus on saving what they can, students should not forget to apply to the wealth of scholarships available nationwide.

Millions of scholarships, worth billions of dollars are awarded annually. Beyond in-house scholarships offered by the institutions themselves, a number of federations and organizations offer money to students with particular aptitudes, achievements and aspirations.

“Scholarships can make a significant dent in out-of-pocket college spending, but finding and applying for them requires an up-front investment of effort,” says Martha Holler, senior vice president, Sallie Mae.

The college financing experts at Sallie Mae are offering scholarship application tips:

  • Applying is worth the time and effort. Even if the award is small, take the time to apply to every scholarship for which you are eligible. It is money that doesn’t have to be paid back, and it can be used for textbooks, supplies or other college-related expenses.
  • Deadlines and details matter. In the highly competitive scholarship arena, missing a deadline or overlooking application requirements will likely disqualify an applicant. Stay organized with a spreadsheet that includes due dates and other important information.
  • Apply each year. Approximately half of available scholarships are for students already enrolled in college. Take the time to apply annually to ease the year-to-year tuition burden.
  • Impress the judges. Something seemingly as small as a thank you note can have a disproportionately large effect on how an application is regarded. Be courteous and thoughtful throughout the process.
  • Shop around. Go deep. There are scholarships for students who want to study subjects as diverse as candy making, potato growing and welding technology. Additionally, scholarships are available for particular circumstances, such as community college students transferring to four-year institutions, or students who are the first in their family to attend college.
  • Don’t spend. The goal is to save money, not spend it. Guidance counselors and school financial aid offices can recommend free, reputable scholarship search sites, such as Scholarship Search by Sallie Mae, which just added two million scholarships to its database, offering access to more than five million scholarships worth nearly $24 billion. Those who register are automatically eligible to win the Plan for College Sweepstakes, which awards $1,000 each month to a winner selected at random.
  • Continue to save and plan. Landing a scholarship is just one component of being prepared for college. Continue to set aside savings. Free college planning tools are available online in Sallie Mae’s College Planning Toolbox.

Heading to college or grad school next school year for the first time or as a returning student? Don’t forget to apply for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for academic year 2019-20.

Completing it is the most important step to qualify for some of the $150 billion available in financial aid including grants, work-study, and federal student loans.

What’s more, completing the FAFSA sooner rather than later is critical because some aid is awarded first come, first served. In addition, schools use it to assemble financial aid packages, states use it to determine eligibility for state aid, and it’s required for many scholarship applications.

To help your family prepare to complete the FAFSA, Sallie Mae, the nation’s saving, planning and paying for college company, is offering the following tips:

  • Be first in line. Some financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, or from programs with limited funds. The earlier families fill out the FAFSA, the better their chances of being in line for that aid. Additionally, those who complete and submit the FAFSA early will receive their Student Aid Report sooner and may receive financial aid award letters from schools earlier.
  • Bring the basics. Before beginning the application, expedite the process by getting prepared. Both parents and students should create a username and password — a Federal Student Aid ID — and gather Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, bank statements, tax returns and W-2 forms.
  • Get connected. New this year, students and families can complete the FAFSA using the myStudentAid app on any Android or Apple device. Regardless of what device you use, remember that it’s always free, so watch out for sites that charge fees or make promises that sound too good to be true. Students can reduce the risk of identity theft by keeping their Federal Student Aid ID confidential, and reporting any suspected fraudulent account activity immediately.
  • Sync up. Using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool can expedite the process by automatically syncing and populating tax return information into the FAFSA. Note: the IRS Data Retrieval Tool is currently only available for those completing the FAFSA at fafsa.gov.
  • File every year. Complete the FAFSA as a high school senior, and every year in college and graduate school. Filing a new FAFSA each year, starting in fall, is the only way to remain eligible for federal student aid, and the amount of aid can vary year-over-year.

Learn more by accessing free online resources, tips tools, videos and more available at salliemae.com/fafsa

“For high school seniors and returning college students, the time to start thinking about next school year is now,” says Martha Holler, senior vice president, Sallie Mae. “The simple act of completing the FAFSA can translate into thousands of dollars to pay for college, but it’s critical to start the process early so you don’t miss out.”