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College financial aid tips for beginners

Thursday, June 07, 2012
When students think about ways to pay for college, they may find themselves lost in a maze of financial aid options. To give them a better idea of where to start searching for aid, Reyna Gobel, author of "How Smart Students Pay for School," offers her suggestions.

When should students begin the financial aid process?

I think you should begin the financial aid process the second you start thinking about it. If you start thinking about your career goals and where you'd like to go to college as a high school freshman, you’re going to make much better choices. The financial aid process and the college selection process should start as soon as possible.

Where is the first place students should begin looking for aid?

They should look for local scholarships, scholarships where they are uniquely qualified in some way, whether it's a scholarship for shorter people or a scholarship for people with a certain talent. You really want to base your search on your unique characteristics, skills and interests. In addition, talk to your parents. There might be scholarships at their workplaces for children of employees.

You really want to start with your own personal network. You may work for Dunkin’ Donuts and maybe Dunkin’ Donuts has a scholarship available for their employees that you could try for. You also want to talk to your high school counselor and get a game plan together for your overall scholarship search.

What are the biggest mistakes students make when searching for financial aid?

The worst mistake you can make is just applying for scholarships at random and saying, 'Oh, that’s a big-money scholarship. I want to apply for that.' How qualified are you for that scholarship? Students should never apply for a scholarship through an email that’s asking for bank account numbers and social security numbers. You always want to bring any scholarship offer to an adult to make them look at it.

When you are going through the financial aid process, stay focused and always have some sort of plan. You are a lot more likely to get scholarships if you are really thinking about which ones you want to apply for and set time aside for filling out applications.

The other mistake that’s made a lot is not applying for the FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid because you don’t want student loans. That application is often used to see if you qualify for grants or need-based scholarships at universities. You can cost yourself a whole lot of money by not filling out this form.  ADNFCR-16000756-ID-800792426-ADNFCR - helping you find colleges and universities that offer the accredited programs that most interest you.

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