November is financial aid awareness month. But what does it mean to be aware of financial aid? It means clicking off the to-do’s on your list of ways to pay for college.
All high school students
While most action items for financial aid apply to high school seniors, there are several steps that all high school students can take. First is to focus on building up the criteria that will qualify you later for scholarships and grants. Work hard on your grades and in the classes you are taking, and find extracurricular activities and community service projects. You can potentially earn scholarship money for both. You should also be putting every dollar you can into a savings account for college – every penny counts.
High school seniors
If you are a high school senior, your list is a little bit longer than the already mentioned items. In addition to those items, you also need to be working on your actual applications and determining a budget for college.
- The most important application you need to complete is the FAFSA. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the first step towards earning federal and state aid, and in many cases the FAFSA is required for scholarships and aid provided by the college you attend. Visit www.FAFSA.gov to file the FAFSA. If you want help, you can take part in a FAFSA Ready Iowa event (www.icansucceed.org/fafsareadyiaevents), which provides free assistance in completing the FAFSA. You can also schedule a free appointment at an ICAN center by visiting www.icansucceed.org/apt. To make sure you are prepared, download a list of the documents you need to complete the FAFSA at www.icansucceed.org/whattobring.
- Following the FAFSA, you need to be working on scholarship applications. As a senior you should talk to your school counselor about local scholarship applications. Also check with each college you have applied to about their scholarship process. Some colleges have a separate application for each scholarship; some have one form for all their opportunities, and some make the admission application the scholarship application as well. You need to clarify what additional steps you need to take at the colleges you are considering to make sure you take advantage of every opportunity available.
After local and institutional scholarships it’s time to start hitting the web. Visit www.icansucceed.org/scholarships to explore an online database and to take a look at a list of recommended scholarship search sites. You should also register for Raise.Me, which provides micro-scholarships to different colleges based on things you’ve done throughout high school such as taking certain courses, participating in extra-curricular activities, or attending an ICAN event.
- The last, and perhaps most important, aspect of preparing for college financially is creating a budget. Your budget will help you determine how much you can afford based on current circumstances, as well as your future potential earnings. Your future career’s starting salary is your budget for student debt. You should not borrow more than you will make in your first year. Keep this figure in mind as you explore colleges and evaluate prices and award packages to keep you on the right track for a successful, financial future.
Contributed by: Iowa College Access Network
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