College can be really expensive. But there are a few things all students should definitely do to make sure their bases are covered when applying to college and getting that free money.
This should be you.
Here they are:
Tip #1: Fill out the FAFSA. Yes, even if you don’t think you’ll qualify, please fill it out. The federal government uses the FAFSA to see if you qualify for over $150 Billion in aid. But here’s the thing. Many state governments, private institutions and colleges use it to see if you qualify for state and institutional scholarships as well.
RESOURCE #1: Need help figuring out the FAFSA? Check out Edvisors amazing and comprehensive guide to filling out the FAFSA.
Tip #2: Fill out the CSS/Financial Aid Profile. The College Scholarship Service PROFILE is used by over 400 private institutions and colleges, particularly highly-selective schools, to gather additional information about financial aid and scholarship eligibility. Chances are high that you are applying to at least one school that requires it, so be sure to look into which schools use it.
RESOURCE #2: You can find full list of schools and institutions for 2017/2018 that are using the CSS Profile here. The College Board’s awesome 1-page student guide to filling it out can be found here. Have a question? Call them at (305) 420-3670. (Their customer support is awesome.)
Another great read: Four Things Undocumented Students Need to Know About Applying to College
Tip #3: Apply early. Like, right now. Yes, I know. This is the same advice that everyone gives you about everything. But with financial aid, it’s actually really important. Here are a few reasons why:
- FAFSA now opens October 1st instead of January 1st, allowing you to get your Student Aid Report (SAR) in time for early action or early decision notifications.
- While FAFSA money doesn’t “run out” as many people believe, money sometimes does run out for scholarships and colleges that use the FAFSA for granting financial aid packages. The early bird gets the $$$.
- The CSS profile is no walk in the park. The questions are much more detailed than the FAFSA and will require wading through W-2s, bank statements, and other tax documentation. But it’s worth it because free money.
RESOURCE # 3: We created the ultimate Google Sheets document for tracking all of your scholarship research and applying. Copy it here and get started now!
Tip #4: Apply for institutional scholarships. Many schools automatically consider you for merit and institutional scholarships. But many schools offer scholarships that must be applied for separately and often require earlier application dates, additional essays and separate interviews. Be sure to look for these opportunities by contacting the financial aid offices of schools you are applying to.
RESOURCE #4: Use Google! It’s your greatest resource in the scholarship search. Don’t believe me? Look at the first thing that came up when I googled “Scholarships at UVA”
5. Tip #5: Apply for outside scholarships. I know, it’s obvious. But you’d be surprised how few students actually put in the time and effort to apply for these and how easy it is to actually get them. With smaller scholarships that are less than $2,000, sometimes the quantity that you apply to is more important than quality (or in this case, the size) of the scholarship.
RESOURCE # 5: USA Today explains the 11 best websites for finding outside scholarships here. (We agree with them.)
Ready to get started? There’s billions of dollars of scholarships out there.