Financial Aid Myths
The financial aid process has given rise to a number of myths, misconceptions, and just plain misinformation. You might hear one or many of the following statements. Don't get taken in.
- "Only straight-A students get aid."
Sure, the academic (or athletic, or music, or leadership) stars may have a better chance of getting merit scholarships. But some financial aid is need-based, not merit-based. It is given to students because they need it to pay for college, no matter what their grades are.
- "I have too much money to get aid."
So your parents (or you) have good jobs, a nice house, and a decent car. You figure that only people who struggle to pay for food will qualify for aid. But it's just not true. The only way to know if you qualify for aid is to complete the applications. Whether you qualify for aid depends on two things: how much your family is able to pay and how much your chosen college costs.
The amount of money that your family can afford to pay is determined by the FAFSA (Free Federal Application for Federal Student Aid). After you submit the FAFSA, you will receive a report telling you what your Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) should be. The college uses the EFC to determine the rest of your financial aid package. The magic number in financial aid, then, is the EFC. And the only way to determine your EFC is to apply for aid through the FAFSA.
- "Loans are not financial aid."
Many students expect all financial aid to be "free money." But neither the government nor colleges has enough money to give to the number of students that need it. That's why most financial aid packages are a mixture of grants (that don't need to be paid back) and loans (that do). Even if all you get is a government-subsidized loan, you have received financial aid. Unlike a regular bank loan, subsidized student loans allow the borrower (you) to wait until after college to pay it back.
Borrowing money to pay for required educational expenses is borrowing with good sense. Borrowing money to support a lifestyle is not good borrowing. A school loan means you are agreeing to (usually) 10 years of monthly payments once you graduate college. So try to minimize the loan amounts if possible, but don't completely shy away from loans without considering the long-term value.
- "I can do it at the last minute."
Deadlines are very important in the financial aid process. Of course, you can send your FAFSA in the day before a college's last deadline. But college financial aid goes fast, especially the grants. The earlier you can get in your application and all of the documentation that the college ask for, the sooner you'll receive your financial aid package. So pay attention to each college's "priority" deadlines—and stick to them.
In addition, the pressure of completing the forms at the last minute can be considerable. It can also lead to more mistakes than you would make if you took a little more time. So schedule a time within the next few weeks for you and/or your family to work on your financial aid applications. You'll be glad you did.
- "Millions of dollars in scholarships go unclaimed every year."
This myth has been around for too many years to count. It is not true—and it is used to scam money from unsuspecting students and parents. The source of this claim is an old study that looked at the theoretical amount of funds available from private organizations—companies, associations, unions, and so forth. Now maybe the scholarship for a left-handed botany major whose father is a member of the Elks doesn't get used every year. But could most people qualify for it?
The truth is, about 70 percent of all financial aid is given by the U.S. government. The rest is a combination of state, private, and college aid. But don't get discouraged yet. There are still many scholarships for which students can apply. And the Web is one of the best places to look for them. Other good sources for scholarship leads are the reference section of the library, your high school guidance office, and college financial aid offices. All of these resources are free.
You should NEVER have to pay for scholarship searches. Beware of scams!