How to Find Financial Aid

(ARA) - When dreams of higher education collide with the means to pay, the task of finding and applying for financial aid makes some students and parents feel like they are lost in the woods.  

For many students, it can appear easier to do nothing at all. A 2006 study by the American Council on Education found that some 1.5 million kids who might have qualified for federal higher education grants didn't even file financial aid forms.  

But, as noted forest philosopher Winnie-the-Pooh once said,"You can't always sit in your corner of the forest and wait for people to come to you ... you have to go to them sometimes.”

The first place to go, says Curt Trygstad, assistant vice president of national programs at Scholarship America, is the federal financial aid form, known as FAFSA. Families can file the form online or by mail; forms are available at Completing federal income tax forms makes filling out the FAFSA form a lot easier, and makes it less likely that you'll have to provide more information later. A benefit to early birds: the earlier you apply, the more funds are available.

“Many financial aid sources are 'first come, first served',” says Trygstad, who has helped students navigate the financial aid system for nearly 20 years at Scholarship America, a nonprofit organization that helps communities and businesses raise and manage scholarship programs.

Trygstad tells students and parents there is a great deal of help out there, if you know where to look. He offers these often overlooked tips:

* Get to know your guidance counselor.
Guidance counselors receive a host of information about financial aid programs, scholarships, and deadlines, as well as information from schools. Some send out newsletters to parents and students; others keep it for those who step up and ask.

* Look around your community.  
Ask at work, your place of worship, the local Rotary Club, American Legion and businesses. Do you have a 'Dollars for Scholars' chapter? Many scholarships are available based on where you live, who you are and what you do.

* Meet the school financial aid officer.  
Trygstad points out that college and trade school financial aid officers have some discretion on financial aid packages and can adjust awards based on the information you provide and extenuating circumstances.

* Verify student loans.  
A June 2007 article points out that parents and students often feel compelled to accept whatever student loan package is offered by their school. Students should research interest rates and payment schedules to get the best deal -- and to know what they are getting into.

* Meet with university department heads.
For students already in college, Trygstad advises they get to know the department head of their major."Most students completely overlook this,” Trygstad says."Many departments have dedicated financial aid and scholarship opportunities for deserving students. They also may have job opportunities within the department.”

* Make your money last.  
Have your eye on a new car? New clothes? Nintendo Wii?"Financial aid programs assume that you'll live within your means. Unfortunately, many students learn the hard way that paying for what you need means waiting for what you want,” Trygstad says.

* Research online.
The Student Resources section on is a good place to start your search online, Trygstad says.  Some of the best links for students are: -- the gateway to obtaining federal financial assistance. -- a free source site for advice, scholarship searches and other forms of financial aid. -- free scholarship search.

The National Association of Financial Aid Administrators Web site at  Click on"Parents and Students” for a brochure called"Research, Remember, Repay” that educates parents and students on borrowing student loans.

Sallie Mae -- the largest issuer of student loans; the site includes a host of resources for students and parents.

“The process isn't easy -- and it's toughest on those who need the most help. But there are people and organizations out there who value education and can help kids succeed once they take that first step,” Trygstad says.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

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