Taking a Closer Look
September 2007
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Financial Aid and Scholarships for College

All parents are concerned about the cost of a college education, but help is available from many sources, including the federal government. Your child's high school guidance counselor, as well as the financial aid officer at your child's future college, can provide information about scholarships and grants, which is money that you do not have to repay, as well as federally guaranteed student and parent loans, which you do need to repay but at a competitive rate. The place to start when looking for college financial aid is the U.S. Department of Education's Federal Student Aid Center, which can be reached at 1-800-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243) or Access to federal, state and even institutional financial aid begins with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Before your child even applies for college, it is possible to get a sense of the federal aid available to your child by using the online FAFSA4caster. Not only will this tool provide you with an estimate of the amount of federal aid your child is likely to receive, it will reduce the amount of time it takes to complete the official FAFSA form when the time comes.

The U.S. Department of Education's Federal Student Aid (FSA) program provides students with grants, loans and work-study opportunities based on the student's demonstrated financial need. In addition, low-income students who have completed a rigorous high school curriculum may also be eligible for Academic Competitiveness Grants (ACG's) of up to $750 in their first year of college and $1,300 in their second year of college, as long as they maintain the necessary grade point average. Low-income college juniors and seniors who major in science, technology, engineering, mathematics or critical foreign languages, and who maintain a minimum grade point average, may also be eligible for National SMART grants of up to $4,000 per year. To learn more about these programs, visit and click on the link to Academic Competitiveness and SMART grants.

Finally, check with your high school guidance counselor and college financial aid officer to learn more about additional sources of scholarships and grant aid, including those provided by private foundations, civic associations, churches, parent organizations, businesses and the colleges, themselves.

When applying for financial aid, you and your child should:

  • Use the FAFSA4caster early in the high school years to get an estimate of the student's eligibility for federal financial aid and to reduce the time required to complete the FAFSA later on;
  • Consult with the high school guidance counselor and college financial aid advisors to learn about financial assistance opportunities available to your child, including his or her eligibility for ACG and National SMART grants;
  • File tax returns early in the year since information on these forms is required to complete the FAFSA form; Complete the FAFSA as soon as possible, keeping in mind due dates established by your child's college as well as federal due dates posted on the FSA Web site. The FAFSA can be completed and submitted, in paper format or online, as early as January 1 each year;
  • Complete the FAFSA online if possible, as the online form provides you with instructions, information prompts and technical assistance; and
  • Apply for financial aid each year that your child is in school. An updated FAFSA must be submitted for each child you have in college and for each year that the child will attend college.

When working with the online FAFSA form, your child will need to:

  • Get a personal identification number called a PIN at;
  • Keep an eye on the e-mail inbox for a response and further instructions; and
  • Make sure the financial aid office at each college your child may attend has all the information needed to determine eligibility for state and institutional aid.

Tips for a Winning Scholarship Application

Here are some tips to give your child when he or she is preparing a scholarship application:

  • Read the requirements to see if you are eligible.
  • Complete all parts of the application.
  • Read and follow all directions.
  • Submit a clean and neat application.
  • Submit a well-composed essay (if it is required) that makes an impression.
  • Be aware of and meet all deadlines.
  • Give your application materials a final review.
  • Get help if you think you need it; have someone else look over the application.
  • Be sure that the work you submit is your own.
  • Make sure you are satisfied with your application before submitting.
  • Mail the application to the proper address with the proper postage or submit the application online.
  • Be sure to mail the application early so that it will be received by the due date.
  • Follow-up with the sponsoring organization to make sure your information was received and to see if there are any questions about what you submitted.

Source: This section was adapted from "Financial Aid Tips" from Army School Liaison Services, 2006.

"For generations, a college education has meant the difference between a life lived on the edge of promise and one lived in the full embrace of the American Dream."
—Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings

NOTES on Applying for Financial Aid and Scholarships


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Last Modified: 06/02/2008