While it’s the shortest month of the year, there’s a lot to do in February when it comes to college planning, especially for high school seniors and current college students. February is Financial Aid Awareness Month and, as such, it’s the perfect time to get all your ducks in a row and get organized on financial aid.
There are a lot of aspects to financial aid; you need to understand your costs, understand your eligibility, and understand your budget. So let’s practice our awareness of all the different types of financial aid and how best to prepare for covering the costs of your college education.
Grants & Scholarships
Grants and scholarships are the types of financial aid you want the most. It’s free money you don’t have to pay back. You may have to maintain a certain GPA or participate in an activity, but the money is yours once you qualify and apply.
February is a great time to really dig in on your scholarship applications. Hopefully you’ve been steadily working on your applications throughout senior year, but if not, there are a lot of scholarships that become available around this time. Start your search by talking with your school counselor about local opportunities, and check with the colleges you’ve applied to. Then get organized and get online. There are so many opportunities for scholarships online, and a great place to start is the Iowa College Access Network’s scholarship database at www.ICANsucceed.org/scholarships. ICAN has already done the work for you and made a list of online sites that are safe and trustworthy, and they have their own database of scholarships you can sort through. Scholarships take a lot of time, but it’s totally worth it when those awards start coming in.
Work-Study & Student Loans
Work-study can be a job on campus that provides cash for daily expenses or cash that can go directly toward your college bill. Student loans are loans you borrow to cover any remaining gaps in your bill.
So how do you get financial aid?
We’ve already talked about applying for scholarships. The biggest piece of financial aid is the FAFSA form or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This form is the key to applying for all federal and state aid, and many colleges and private scholarship organizations require it as part of their application processes as well.
The FAFSA is a free form that can lead to federal and state grants, as well as federal student loans, if you need them. The FAFSA can seem scary the first time you do it, which is why in Iowa there’s tons of free help available. The Iowa College Access Network has locations across the state that offer free appointments to help you complete the FAFSA. Just visit www.ICANsucceed.org/locations to find the nearest Student Success Center to you. There’s also the Iowa College Goal Sunday program, which will be offering more than 60 events across Iowa staffed by volunteers from the financial aid community, experts that will help you file your FAFSA and understand the process for free and without an appointment. Visit www.IowaCGS.org to find an event near you and sign up for email reminders.
The final piece to financial aid awareness is learning how it all fits together. Applying for aid, understanding the awards being offered to you by each college, and your total cost are all important pieces to the puzzle. And like a puzzle you need to have them all in place to see the total picture and get a clear view of your options.
In another blog entry we’ll talk about what to do with that picture, but this month be aware of all the pieces you need to get together, file the FAFSA, work on scholarships and start mapping out the potential costs of college. Awareness of what is available to you, what steps are required of you, and your individual responsibility are all part of what it takes for you to be your most successful you.
By: Iowa College Access Network
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