Size Isn’t Everything When It Comes to Financial Aid Packages

Look at the Types of Aid, Too

Free College Scholarship and Grant Search InformationPaying for college—the final frontier. It does not, however, have to be the most dreadful. Many colleges and universities are very helpful—and generous—when it comes to offering financial aid, but become a wise shopper before you accept just anything. Simply because a package may meet 100 percent of your need doesn’t mean it’s the best deal.

When searching for the right package, the key is to start looking early. Inquire about the types of financial aid offered by the school(s) you have applied to. You should be interested in the aid the school can provide beyond federal loans, grants, and work-study jobs. You’ll want to know if a school has college scholarships and grants of its own. Also, search to find out how dedicated to meeting your financial needs a school is. For instance, some universities are committed to meeting 100 percent of their students’ financial need; if you find this out in advance, it may help you narrow down your choices in terms of where you’ll consider applying for aid.

Another key is to look everywhere else; the Internet, the library, and your high school counselors are all great places to start.

A final key to fiscal success in college funding is to complete and return the FAFSA financial aid form as soon after January 1 (the earliest it can be submitted) as possible. You want to know what federal dollars you will be eligible for as soon as possible because this will help you negotiate a good package with the school(s) you are interested in.

Now, let’s suppose two schools have offered you financial aid packages that meet 100 percent of your demonstrated need as determined by your Student Aid Report from the FAFSA. The aid packages look like this:

University 1

  • $3,500—Work-study job
  • $2,200—Federal grant
  • $1,300—Scholarship
  • $3,500—Federal loans
  • $10,500/year with debt

University 2

  • $3,500—Work-study job
  • $2,200—Federal grant
  • $2,200—Scholarship
  • $2,600—School grant
  • $10,500/year without debt

The two schools offer the same total amount of aid, but University 1 is offering $3,500 in student loans, which must be paid back with interest. A college scholarship search may well have covered that expense in University 2.

Reducing the amount of debt you will have upon graduation is important. You don’t want to burden them with thousands of dollars of debt right out of school. It may not be possible to avoid loans altogether, but you want to hunt for every free dollar you can early on to reduce the debt later.

If a school truly wants you in its freshman class, it will work with you to find funding sources. It’s never too early to start looking—a few hours spent performing a college scholarship and grant search now can save you lots of cash and anxiety later.


This article was written by Kimberly Hardy

Kimberly Hardy, MSW, LGSW, has been a clinical school social worker for many years. She has studied at Morgan State University, The Ohio State University, and The University of Chicago.

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