101 Things You Need To Know About Getting Financial Aid

By NEXT Staff on Monday, September 8, 2014

First things first!

Fill out the FAFSA

Why? Why not? After all, it is called the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Oh, and it’s your only shot for federal dollars like the Pell Grant which offers up to $5,730 for 2014-15. The amount you get is based on demonstrated financial need, cost of attendance and enrollment status. There’s also the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant for students with the most financial need and range from $100 to $4,000 per year. In either case, grant money you get is yours, free and clear.

When? As soon after Jan. 1 as possible, which means you’ll have to bug your parents to file their taxes ASAP since there’s a limited pool of grant and scholarship money and it’s first come, first served. Remember, you’ll have to reapply every year for federal aid and some state scholarships, so take notes of the process and have any important documents handy so you’ll be good to go next year.

But what if I’m not eligible? There’s only one way to find out. Stop looking for excuses and apply.

Where? Online at FAFSA.ed.gov.

Free For All

The Arkansas Academic Challenge Program provides scholarships to residents pursuing a higher education—133,000 awarded to date. Funded by the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery, the Academic Challenge Scholarship is available to students regardless of their academic status, whether just graduating from high school, currently enrolled in college, enrolling in college for the first time, or re-enrolling after a period of time out of college.

The scholarships are available for two-year and four-year college students. The payout varies annually based on Arkansas Scholarship Lottery revenue, but has been as high as $5,000/year to as low as $2,000/year (for four-year college students). The application deadline is June 1.

P.S. You have to have filed your FAFSA to be eligible. For more info, write to FinAid@ADHE.edu, call (800) 54-STUDY or go to MyArkansasLottery.com/About/Scholarships.

1 App ... 1 Easy Way to Apply for 20 SCHOLARSHIPS

Go ahead and figure out if you’re eligible to receive 20 different scholarships by simply filling out the handy YOUniversal Scholarship App from the Arkansas Department of Higher Education.

No really. Go ahead. Right now.

You don’t have to wait until you’re a senior or have chosen a college. As soon as you’ve taken the PLAN or PSAT, or even the real deal ACTs or SATs, visit the site (or use the handy dandy cell phone app) and plug in your GPA and test scores to see how many of the 20 government-funded scholarships you’re eligible for.

YOUniveral will even show you where you need to improve to get more money when you apply for the eligible scholarships in January of your senior year.

So, what are you waiting for? Click here to register.

Be on the lookout for these types of financial aid:

• Federal grants
• Federal direct loans
• Federal work study
• State grants
• Institutional grants
• External scholarships
• Private loans

These are awarded based on two factors: need and merit.

Do Some Digging!
There are lots of scholarships available for different students—like engineering or journalism department scholarships for engineering or journalism students. And there are some scholarships for different types of students—for different ethnicities, for students who are transferring in from another state or another college, and more. Some may be small (think $250, $500 and $1,000), but they add up! Since they’re free money, you should apply for as many as possible.

How to find them: Your guidance counselor will be able to point you in the direction of any local scholarships. Check out scholarships given by businesses, and ask your parents if their workplaces offer any financial aid for children of employees.

More places to look: Sites like ARCF.org, FundMyFuture.info, Fastweb.com and FinAid.com are all great places to look for more money. When you start looking at listings, make sure you’re checking out a reputable source. Real scholarship applications don’t have fees attached!

Pay for school with a Work-Study Job

For a secure job that works around your academic schedule, try work-study. Federal work-study jobs are federally funded, part-time jobs, and the amount of dough you can earn from one depends on your financial need as determined by your FAFSA. If you are eligible, a school official will work with you to put together a schedule that fits your academic commitments. Work-study jobs can be found on campus, in public agencies and sometimes with nonprofit and for-profit private organizations, and you will earn at least federal minimum wage for your work. If this is something you’re interested in, don’t forget to choose the federal work-study option when filling out your FAFSA at FAFSA.gov. And for more info, StudentAid.ed.gov.

Something similar…

Some colleges also offer institutional work-study jobs, which are on-campus, part-time jobs that are not federally funded and that are available for all students, regardless of financial need. These jobs are usually found in different campus departments or offices. Contact your school to see what options are available to you.

Already Know Where You Want to Go?

Then you better be applying for scholarships there!

Let us clarify: If you’re one of those students who has known since birth you’d be a Razorback or purple Bear, or maybe just made the decision on where to attend a little sooner than your fellow seniors, be sure to get busy applying for as many scholarships your college or university offers.

  • What kind of aid are we talking about? Alumni who made it big give money back to the program they graduated from so younger generations can have the same opportunity. And guess what? They might not have had a perfect GPA when they were your age. Put some feeling into the personal essay (if one is required) and maybe they’ll see something in you that they think is scholarship-worthy.
  • Deadline? Varies, but generally the deadlines are in the fall and spring of your senior year.
  • Who can help me get started? Ask your admissions counselor – or anyone in your college’s admissions or financial aid office – how to apply.
  • “What if I don’t have a major?” Many colleges have scholarships available no matter what your major is. In some cases, though, you’ve got a shot at a bigger pool of money if you go ahead and declare. If that’s the case (ask your admissions counselor), consider making a decision. You can always change your major later on.

A Calculation Worth Doing

Unless you’re fortunate enough to get a full-ride or close, getting a degree is an expensive investment in your future. And like any investment, it needs to be well researched and the potential pay-offs thoroughly investigated.

Questions you should ask yourself:

• How much will my degree cost?

• How much money will my parents contribute?

• How much financial aid did I get?

• How much in student loans do I need to cover the rest?

• What’s the interest rate on a student loan?

• What is my dream job?

• How much will it pay me?

• Will I make enough to make my loan payments?

That’s why we love Junior Achievement’s new mobile application – JA Build Your Future. It helps you explore potential future income from a desired career and evaluate the cost of higher education to help you make informed decisions. After using the app, you’ll be given a “Return on Investment” score between one and five, which will paint a pretty clear picture on the value of your degree.

Download the JA Build Your Future app at Google Play or download for iPhone, iPad and Android phones and tablets. There’s also an online version at JuniorAchievement.org.

4 More Ways To Spend Less on a Degree

  • Begin at a community college. Tuition and fees at a two-year college are usually much less than at a traditional four-year school. According to College Board, the average annual price tag at a community college is $2,963. That’s nearly a third of the $8,244 average price tag for a year at a public four-year college. You’ll also save by avoiding room and board fees for two years.
  • Pursue an accelerated degree. If you have a particular degree in mind from day one, check with your school to see if it offers an accelerated degree program in your discipline. These programs can put you on a fast track to earning your degree and save you thousands of dollars. Bottom line: The less time spent earning your degree, the less money spent earning your degree.
  • Become a resident assistant. Resident assistants, called RAs, are responsible for everything from mentoring younger students to managing conflicts between roommates. The job often comes with benefits like free housing, free or reduced meal plans, tuition discounts and free parking passes. Usually students must have completed a semester or two before they can apply to be an RA.
  • Join the military. There are plenty of military programs that offer financial support for your higher education dreams in exchange for a period of service. A number of scholarships are available for ROTC cadets and veterans too. As a bonus, many of these scholarships have benefits like monthly living allowances and money for textbooks.

Cost-saving Secret!

Private institutions—although you might be quick to rule them out because of tuition costs—often have more financial aid to dole out thanks to big alumni donations. See what kind of financial aid you can get at all the

Arkansas schools you’re interested in before ruling any out. It might turn out to be cheaper for you to attend a private school than you thought – maybe even cheaper than a state school.

Moral of the story: Apply for as many scholarships and grants as possible, and compare the aid and costs carefully before making a decision.

Arkansas Governor’s Scholars Program

Students who receive the Governor’s Scholars Award will receive $4,000 per year at any approved Arkansas college or university, and students who get the Governor’s Distinguished Scholars Award will receive up to $10,000 per year for tuition, mandatory fees and room and board. This is definitely a scholarship to aim for!

Want to get the Distinguished Scholars Award?

You gotta do one of these:   And one of these:
  • Score a 32 composite score on the ACT
  • Score a 1410 combined score on the SAT
  • Have a 3.50 GPA or higher
  • Be selected as a National Achievement Finalist or National Merit Finalist