College can seem big, scary and really, really confusing at times. Most of those times just happen to be when you’re looking at the crazy high price tag. Education is expensive, but you don’t have to sell everything you own to pay for it. There’s a magical little thing called “financial aid” to help you out. But you might need a little magic to decipher all of the money mumbo-jumbo that schools will throw at you… Consider this column your dictionary for the five most important terms when it comes to your personal payment plan.
Financial aid – Money you get from a variety of sources (the government, private organizations, the college itself and more) for a wide variety of reasons (academic, athletic, need-based) to help pay for your education. There are several types, including, but not limited to:
- Scholarships – Probably the most well known type of aid, these are awarded based on merit in some categories and other criteria like sports, clubs and test scores. You definitely want to be searching for these since they don’t have to be repaid. There are plenty of scholarship search websites online, and information is available through the guidance office, so start looking them up now!
- Grants – Like scholarships, these don’t have to be repaid, which is the very best kind of financial aid. But unlike scholarships, these are based solely on need. Need is determined by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which becomes available to file on Jan. 1. Apply even if you think your family’s not eligible – you never know. Quite frankly, 99 percent of us quality as “Ivy League poor.”
- Waivers – These handy little “free passes” can really add up. Waivers are given to those who meet certain circumstances (usually economic, sometimes merit-based) and keep you from having to pay certain admission-related costs. Many schools waive application fees (which can be anywhere from $50 to $100 each) and sometimes you can get the fee for sending in standardized test scores like the ACT, SAT and AP exams waived too. Just keep an eye on your mailbox and email, and don’t be afraid to call admissions offices and see if they can waive anything for you.
- Student loans – Not that these are bad (sometimes, they’re just necessary to get through school), but they should probably be a last resort for aid because they need to be paid back after you graduate. Loans can be borrowed from banks, colleges or the government. Consider it an investment in your future, but it shouldn’t be taken lightly. Look for free aid first and prepare yourself for a career where you can pay off your debts and get on with your life.
Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) – This application qualifies you for most state and federal aid, as well as some institutional aid (but most require separate applications). You have to use your family’s tax data to file the FAFSA. The closer to Jan. 1 you file, the better chance you have of getting money.