For many high school students, the college hunt may be nearly over, but where the money will come from is still a mystery. Some financial aid remains, though, even this late in the game.
The first thing to do — ASAP — is fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It’s the door to any need-based financial aid.
“Unless you’re a multimillionaire, I usually advise people to fill out the FAFSA,” says Miriam Parker at the College Counseling Center of Atlanta. The result could be a grant, loan or work-study plan. “They’ll put together a package for a student, and the student can choose to take all or some of it.”
But don’t give up after you find out what your household contribution is. “That’s like [paying] the sticker price at a car dealership,” Terina Isaac says.
Isaac, a North Atlanta High School guidance counselor and the College Board’s 2010 Southeast Region Counselor of the Year, says families don’t need to wait until they do their taxes to file the FAFSA. You can estimate, and colleges will verify exact numbers later.
Then research the colleges, and specific departments, the student is interested in. Even if your kid doesn’t win a campus wide scholarship, he or she could be eligible for, say, a music, engineering or writing award.
Joni Towles, of Towles Educational Consulting, points to a sometimes-overlooked jackpot. “Parents need to check with their employers, especially if they’re with a large corporation. Many businesses have scholarships for employee children.” Plus, the competition won’t be as high as with scholarships open to the general public.
Parker also urges students to look at different types of schools, such as those with rolling admission and later scholarship deadlines.
“Sometimes I find students who are Hope-scholarship-eligible but none of the schools in Georgia meets their needs,” Parker says. “[I] have them apply to small liberal arts schools in other states, and it happens that school is a bargain for them.”
And it’s not all about GPA or SAT scores. It’s about doing your research, too.
“I had at least one student this year who has gotten a lot of money,” Parker says. “She’s not an over-the-top valedictorian, but she chose very wisely. She applied for some schools in the $40,000 range, and some of them gave her up to $15,000.”
– By Lauren Davidson, Atlanta Bargain Hunter