The one thing that we can tell you for certain about financial aid is that you have to work hard to get it. It would be nice if it all worked out on its own and someone came to your door with a full four-year scholarship, but that doesn't happen. You have to fill out forms, keep track of deadlines, write essays, and check into dozens of resources and do this not just before you go to college but also while you're there. It's a hassle and it's tiring, but persistence does pay off.
Plan of Attack
"Do some homework and know at least a little about financial aid. You can meet with your financial aid advisor to ask some questions and get an idea of how things work. The more knowledgeable you are, the better!"
Financial Aid Advisor, SUNY-Cortland
Looking for money to pay for college is a time-consuming and often frustrating process, and getting organized before you start can help keep you sane as you go through it. It will also ensure that you don't miss an important step or a deadline that ends up costing you money.
To help you get organized, here's a general overview of the three main types of things you'll have to do as you go through the not-always-fun process of looking for money:
- Fill out required financial aid forms: FAFSA and PROFILE are the most common, and you'll have to fill them out if you plan to apply for any type of financial aid, including loans and need-based scholarships. You'll need your and your parents' most recent tax returns to fill out the required financial information.
- Search for scholarships: This is one of the most time- consuming but also potentially the most rewarding parts of finding money to pay for college. You should plan on searching and applying for local, national, and special-interest scholarships.
- Learn about your loan options: There are many different kinds of loans for which you could be eligible, and you should spend some time researching and understanding each option.