Exploding Seven Myths of Financial Aid

With soaring college tuition and expenses, financial aid has become a necessity for many students. Along with the stress of meeting the costs, there also is a maze of confusion around obtaining financial assistance. Here are seven myths dissected to help you better negotiate a difficult problem.

Myth #1: The confusion of forms to complete just to enter college and apply for any financial aid is overwhelming.

Although it may seem that way at the outset, there are a couple of basic steps that will help you begin the process. Anyone planning to attend college should plan to take the PSAT during his junior year and the SAT and the ACT during the first part of his senior year. Forms for application may be found at any local high school or obtained from their source. It is always best to take both the SAT and ACT, as the design of each test is different, and some students may do better on one than the other. It is recommended that tests be taken early in the year so if the scores are not satisfactory, the student may repeat them later in the school year.

The second step is to complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Financial Student Aid), also available at local high schools and usually libraries. Along with scores from tests, these results should be sent to universities the student is interested in attending. Of course, the student also must fill out an application for admission and be accepted prior to the college’s computation of a package of financial aid based on information supplied in the FAFSA.

Myth #2: Colleges and universities provide all the aid within their packages that students need to attend.

Packages provided by universities usually contain available grants, some general scholarships for which students may qualify, and, often, work-study options. This amount is rarely enough to cover costs, especially if the student is living on campus. Many schools require students to reside in college dorm housing their freshman year, so commuting or living off campus may not be an option. This restriction necessitates a search for other offers such as private scholarships.

Myth #3: There is a myriad of easily obtained scholarships available on the Internet.

While there is a significant number of scholarships discussed on the Internet, they can be far from easy to obtain. Searching through all the sources can take hours. Most will send you to the donor’s website, where you will have to search for the requirements and the forms. Some even require a written request for an application. It is said that there are always scholarships that are never distributed because they lack suitable applicants. After looking at the maze of listings, it is easy to understand how that could be true.

Myth #4: There are individuals and companies who offer their help in searching for scholarships, and many guarantee results.

It is quite risky to expect someone to produce guaranteed scholarships. If an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Often these companies charge large amounts of money for their services. When I was a high school counselor, we told our students not to pay for scholarships, either to the source or to whomever is providing assistance.

Myth #5: School counselors have plenty of scholarship applications and books in their offices to provide to students on a regular basis.

Although school counselors may have a few local scholarship applications and schools have a process to select applicants, counselors are far from an adequate source. Counselors have so many demands on their time that they often must spend the majority of it testing, scheduling, and handling other administrative tasks rather than counseling students on college admissions and scholarship application. What about students who are homeschooled and do not have access to a counselor? Books listing scholarships are available in counselors’ offices and in libraries, but many of the scholarships are out of date or are no longer given.

Myth #6: The only reliable source for scholarships is online, and parents and students must spend endless hours searching on their own.

Although the process of applying for scholarships is not a simple task, there are online sources that will give assistance in narrowing down the search and facilitating the process by providing the information in a readable, user-friendly format. Some of these online information providers are free, and some involve a fee.

Myth #7: All online scholarship information providers are basically the same, so it is best to utilize the free ones instead of paying a fee.

The free sites do provide savings, but some of them require more time on the part of subscribers. For instance, some sites will require students to fill out extensive forms so the recommended scholarships will be more specific. This may be helpful, but it will exclude many listings based on the choices on the form, and many students are not entirely certain about their interests and majors. Free sites are generally funded by advertisers, so their sites will contain many ads, some very distracting. Often, they will only provide national offerings and will not include state or regional scholarships.

Sites with fees may have larger databases, but be sure they are verified and updated. Scholarship due dates will change from year to year, and some of the requirements can be different, or the awards may not be given some years or cancelled. Incorrect information can clutter the listing and take up valuable time. It is also important that links are available to the scholarship sites themselves, as often there are applications that can be completed online. Last, but certainly not least, it is a plus to have an established record of success by the company as well as a customer service contact available. Most online services are very limited in this respect.

Despite the fact that applying for college financial aid can be a daunting process, there is dependable, legitimate help available. When carefully chosen, it will make the job less of a hassle. The reward comes when a student receives an award. It makes all of your persistence worthwhile.