How to Get the Maximum in Financial Aid

Just like your applications process, a key thing to remember about the scholarship process is to stay organized. When you find a scholarship that you feel competitive for mark its due date on your wall calendar. Create a folder for it and aim to have it complete a week before its official due date.

When you get your financial aid package from your school of choice, don’t start crying. Think of it as an opening bid in a negotiation. Your financial aid package is at the discretion of a few people who genuinely want to help you attend their institution. Don’t be afraid to contact them and explain your financial situation. In the meantime, let’s look at how you can bring in some cash!

Find Scholarships That Fit You

There is no shortage of scholarships out there. They range from the incredibly prestigious with hefty gift amounts (the Coca-Cola Scholars Program gives out up to $20,000 for example) to the downright silly. There are scholarships at the local, state and national level. It will take awhile to find ones that are worth your time but online research is a great place to start. I recommend College Board’s Scholarship Search ( and Fast Web ( Both sites offer searchable databases of scholarships which will help match scholarships to your online profile.

Consider looking for scholarships based on your gender, race, religion and field of study. Pay attention to see if the scholarship money is awarded directly to the recipients or if it is sent to the school of your choice. Many schools will decrease their financial aid packages proportionally with the amount of outside scholarship you receive. Call your schools and see what their policies are – will they decrease the amount of loans first before they take away some of your grant money? Here is where having a friend in the Application Office can come in handy – get a referral to someone in the Financial Aid department you can call and ask!


The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (known as the FAFSA) is a requirement for most schools to process a Financial Aid Application. The application is available after January 1st of each year online ( Your parents may need to estimate their income for the rest of the fiscal year, so give them plenty of notice to gather the information they’ll need to give you the right numbers.

You may also need to fill out the CSS Profile ( CSS is short for the College Scholarship Service Profile and it is more detailed than the FAFSA. If you are applying to schools for Early Decision you will most likely have to fill out the CSS Profile since the FAFSA is not available until the New Year.

Types of Loans

In addition to any grant money you can win through scholarships or through Pell Grants (also a great source of extra money to explore), you can expect that part of your financial aid package will involve loans.

Federal loans are usually the best way to go since they can offer deferment of interest and a lower rate than most banks. Here are the ones you’ll need to know about:

Federal Stafford Loans – These are awarded based on financial need and there are three kinds to choose from:
Subsidized – This type of loan means that the government will pay the interest on it while the student is enrolled.
Unsubsidized – For students who don’t qualify for subsidized loans, unsubsidized loans require the student to be responsible for the entire amount of interest.
Additional Unsubsidized – These loans are for independent students, as determined by Federal guidelines. Students become eligible if their parents are denied a PLUS loan (for having bad credit, for example).
PLUS Loans – These are low-interest loans for the parents of students who qualify based on financial need – repayment is required upon graduation or completion of the loan.
Federal Perkins Loans – These loans are for students with extreme financial need. Usually they do not accrue interest for 9 months after graduation and have extremely low interest rates.
In addition to grants and loans, your school may offer work-study as part of your financial aid. This involves working a minimum numbers of hours a week on-campus tax-free.

Get Supplemental Info Ready to Go

Many of the items you’ll need for scholarships you will already be obtaining anyway for your college applications. These can include transcripts, resumes, and personal statements. Make sure you have plenty of copies at your disposal so that you won’t run out and have to scramble to meet deadlines. You may also be required to submit your parents’ tax return for the previous fiscal year, so ask them to make copies of that for you as well.

While the application process will be over for you in January, applying for financial aid is an on-going process that will take you well into the spring. Try not to get discouraged if you apply for 50 scholarships and only get a few. Stay positive and motivated and keep putting that extra effort into your applications. Remember – free money is out there with your name on it! You just have to go and get it.