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FINANCIAL AID 201: FOR COLLEGE STUDENTS

Some of you may already be financial aid experts. But keep reading. Even financial aid veterans can benefit from these tips.

Make your annual acquaintance with the FAFSA and CSS PROFILE forms. Your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms and PROFILE forms are only good for one year. To qualify for financial aid, you must reapply annually. Apply online at www.fafsa.ed.gov and profileonline.collegeboard.com/index.jsp.

Here are some hints for maximizing your success during, and after, college:

  • Read the instructions carefully. Terms like "household" or "parent or guardian" have a specific meaning when it comes to financial aid. To answer the questions correctly, pay close attention to the instructions. (To read up on common FAFSA errors, visit http://www.finaid.org/fafsa/errors.phtml.)

  • Apply early. We can't say this often enough. Apply as soon after January 1 as you can. The earlier you get started, the better your chances for getting financial aid. File by Feb. 1 for the next fall term if possible.

  • You don't need to file your tax return before you submit your FAFSA. Filling out your tax return first will make completing the FAFSA easier. However, you do not need to submit your tax return to the IRS before you submit your FAFSA. You can submit an updated form after your tax return is filed.

  • Keep your paperwork. Save everything you used to complete the form, such as tax records, driver's license, etc. Also, print a copy of your completed FAFSA and keep it with your records.

Review the SAR

About four weeks after you send in the FAFSA, you will receive the Student Aid Report (SAR). Review it carefully and make sure it is complete and accurate (this is why you save those records!). If you find an error or need to make changes to the information on your SAR, you may want to speak with your advisor or financial aid office before mailing in corrections.

If your SAR is complete and accurate, it should list the Expected Family Contribution or EFC. This is the amount your family is expected to put toward the cost of your education. Your college will receive your EFC, along with the rest of your information. The school then will use this information to prepare a financial aid package for you.

Know Your Scholarships

Some people are lucky enough to receive several scholarships. If you're one of the lucky ones, be sure you know the particulars of all your awards. For example, some scholarships are good for one year only. Others require that you maintain a certain grade point average to keep them.

Also, as a college sophomore or junior, you may be eligible for different scholarships than you were as a freshman. Visit your financial aid office and speak with your academic advisor to get started. Be sure you know the requirements and due dates for each scholarship.

Preparing for Transition

At some point during your undergraduate years, you will have to make a decision: to enter the workplace after graduation or to start preparing for graduate school. Here are some vital steps you should start taking now for both these possibilities.

Getting Ready for the Workplace

Having a college degree will certainly help you land a good job. But there are still steps for you to take and issues to consider. You may want to begin by doing the following:

  • Read trade and professional journals to learn about future job openings. Also consider attending professional national or regional conferences in your field (students often are invited to attend for free or at little charge).

  • Understand your student loan obligation: If you have student loans, make sure you know what you will have to repay and when. You may have a grace period before the first payment is due, depending on the loan. Your college's financial aid office can help you learn about your responsibilities concerning loan repayment.

  • If possible, try to find an internship or research position in your field during the summer. Your work experience will give you an advantage while applying for jobs after you graduate. These positions may also provide stipends, giving you extra money for living expenses while you are still in school. Check out the Ventures Scholars Career Center as a starting point to find more information.

  • Start networking. Let friends and relatives know that you'll be graduating soon and will be looking for work in a particular field. Also try to find someone in the career you want to pursue who is willing to mentor you—give you advice and support as you navigate your way toward your new career.

  • Consider working with job placement organizations. Just make sure the service is one where the employer pays the cost—and not you! Another option is to use the placement centers run by your state, county, or city.

  • Be patient. Often it takes a while before you land a good job. Also, if you interview for a job that you don't get—don't take it personally. You may not have gotten the job for reasons that have nothing to do with you. Just keep believing in yourself and be persistent. Eventually, you'll find the right job.

Opting for Graduate School

Fortunately, you already know a lot about getting ready for graduate school. After all, the process is similar to becoming an undergraduate. Just keep the following points in mind:

  • Start planning early, preferably a year before you plan to enroll. This will give you time to read about the school, visit the campus, apply for admission, and get your financial aid in place.

  • If you haven't already selected a graduate school, consider the school's reputation, cost, and atmosphere. Web sites such as www.princetonreview.com and www.petersons.com can help you research prospective colleges. Also, check out the member graduate and professional schools on the Ventures Scholars Web site.

  • If you took out a loan as an undergraduate, find out if the loan can be deferred. Depending on the type of loan, you may be able to delay making student loan payments if you attend graduate school. Your college's financial aid office can help you find out about deferments.

  • Find out if your college credits will transfer to the graduate school you've selected. Your current advisor can go over your transcripts and determine which credits will transfer. Remember, schools can vary widely on their policies for accepting credits from other institutions. It's best to research this before you decide on your new school.

Here are Other Areas to Link to:

FINANCIAL AID 101: FOR HIGH SCHOOLERS
FINANCIAL AID 201: FOR COLLEGE STUDENTS
WORKING YOUR WAY THROUGH
COLLEGE FINANCING ALTERNATIVES

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