53% of students attending in 2014 relied on loans, grants and/or scholarships to pay for college, according to an annual survey by SallieMae. That means, as a financial aid counselor, you have incredible influence over how students fund their education – not just by way of federal or state monies, but by helping them get creative with multiple sources of funding.
Below we’ve created a guide for you to give your students to help them pay for their educational dreams.
Get it Done Early
Turn in your FAFSA as early as possible and definitely before your college’s deadline. (Did you know you can submit it before your parents have completed their taxes by using estimates?)
There’s not always enough aid for everyone who applies (especially when it comes to limited funds offered by your college or your state), and it will be awarded as students apply. When it’s gone, it’s gone.
The early bird, in this case, will get the worm. And you really want that worm!
File your FAFSA electronically for faster processing and better accuracy, according to the financial aid experts at Edvisors.
Filing FAFSA electronically can shave one to two weeks off the processing time, which is especially important if you’re up against the deadline.
Apply for Everything
Many college students will just apply for the scholarships they think they’re most likely to get.
You’ve heard “you have to play to win?” Scholarships work the same way. If you don’t apply, you definitely won’t get it; whereas if you do apply, you stand a chance. As long as you meet a scholarship’s minimum qualifications, apply for it!
If you find yourself complaining about all the essays you’ll have to write or a long, tedious application, put it in perspective: Is there anything else you could be doing with your time that would earn you thousands of dollars in free money?
If so, then definitely go do those things. But if not, buckle down and write those essays. If it takes you two hours and you win $2000, you just earned $1000 an hour. I’d guess that’s a little higher than what you’ll earn post-graduation.
Find and apply for scholarships throughout college.
Most college students make the mistake of not applying for scholarships after their freshman year or even after their senior year of high school. In reality, there are still scholarships being handed out until you graduate undergrad.
After you choose your major, look for alumni scholarships. For example, the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication alumni-funded scholarships are for scholars of that degree program.
Maybe you’ve picked up a new hobby and there are scholarships related to that? Some endowments are only for returning sophomores as an incentive to return to college after the first year. There are many options, so be sure to keep researching scholarships or asking your financial aid office about them.
Treat Your Financial Aid Counselor Like Your Ally
Your financial aid counselor IS your ally, so treat him that way. It’s easy to get frustrated when you don’t get the funding you expected or when you think you’re done with FAFSA paperwork and you get selected for the tedious verification process.
Don’t take your frustration out on your financial aid officer; she is much more valuable as an ally than an adversary. And she really does care – read an Open Letter from a Financial Aid Counselor, if you don’t believe us.
If you find yourself feeling angry or helpless, take a few deep breaths. Communicate succinctly to your counselor why you are feeling upset, and ask for help. Most financial aid officers are in that career, because they want to help students, and that is not an easy job. Be the student who makes that job just a little easier, and your counselor will be more than happy to help you succeed.