Image from Pexels.

Image from Pexels.

I’ll be honest: I was REALLY bad at applying for financial aid at first. Like, I let the papers sit on my desk for two months and then a week before it was due, I realized all the that stuff I needed. There was a lot of yelling from my parents and awful guilt on my part–suffice it to say it was really bad, and only by a sheer miracle did I get the applications in. My biggest problem was that I left it to the last minute because I thought all I needed to do was say, “Yeah, I’m going to college, I meet your qualifications, here’s my number, please give me money.” That’s not how it works. Here are five things you should know first before even thinking about applying for financial aid:

1. Know Your Terms 

The world of financial aid really is its own solar system in the universe of college applications, and to navigate it properly you need to know what you’re talking about. Do some research on what different types of scholarships and loans are out there, (which you can start doing on The Prospect with Sarah’s comprehensive article and video on financial aid) and what you qualify for.

2. You will need important documents.

Depending on the organization, they may need a variety of important documents both to confirm your identity and accurately provide you with the funds. This can be as simple as your social security number or as involved as photocopies of your passport,  your social security CARD (very different from just the number), and your birth certificate. Let me be the one to break it to you that your parents probably don’t have your birth certificate framed in a vault, but rather have no idea where it is. An organization will also likely want a copy of your official transcript and standardized test score report, which should be on official school paper and/or signed by an administrator. Your important documents should be one of the first things you check up on due to the fact that it can take a while to track everything down.

3. Follow instructions and BE ON TIME.

A really great thing about scholarships and financial aid is that most people who need them, can apply to them. The bad thing about it is that everyone can apply to them, and some organizations will do whatever they can to narrow the pool of applicants down. If you miss the deadline, you won’t be considered. If your recommendation is not in a signed sealed envelope, you won’t be considered. If your papers are not placed in the envelope in the specified order, you won’t be considered. It may be arduous and seem stupid, but when it comes to money for your education, you don’t want to screw it up due to a technicality. When I sent in my packet, my dad insisted on double checking the order of the papers before putting them in the envelope, and while it may seem a bit neurotic, it can’t hurt.

4. There will be supplements.

Most surprising for me when I finally opened up my packet of scholarship info was that there was another slew of supplements for me to complete, and I could not use what I had already written for the CommonApp. Often an organization, especially if named after a specific person, will have a specific goal or mission statement that they will want you to respond to or incorporate into you writing piece. The more specific the organization, the more specific their prompt will be. I was eligible for my scholarship because of my dad’s union, and so I had to write a page or two about the importance of unions. Even if they don’t say so explicitly, you might consider throwing the organization’s namesake in somewhere as it may just make you stand out a bit more in the sea of applicants. I found that it was helpful to just do a quick Google search of the person and see how they pertained to what I was already planning to talk about.

5. You need recommendations.

Just like for the CommonApp, you should expect to need recommendations from at least one of your teachers and your college counselor or dean. Fortunately, what they wrote for the CommonApp should suffice, BUT STILL CHECK. Sometimes they may want to know specific aspects of your profile that your teacher didn’t mention in what they wrote, and just let them know that they should boast about your participation and passion in the recommendation.

I’m sure that anyone reading this is already on their way to being a sound candidate for financial aid, which is why I did not want to focus on the bigger aspects of the process but rather the little things that might be overlooked or forgotten. By remembering these tips, not only will your application be presented in a more orderly and tidy fashion, but some of the stress associated with the application process will be relieved.

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