Paying for college can be a stressful thing for a lot of students looking to further their education. Figuring out the financial aid system can be daunting because for many of us, this is the first time ever having to consider loans, grants and acting as an adult financially. Some students, like myself, have financial aid packages the cover the entire cost of attendance to the institution and do not have to be repaid. Exactly what the package will cover may vary from institution to institution but it can include tuition, room and board, books, transportation and/or miscellaneous college expenses (like bedding).
Institutional Grants and Scholarship
Full rides to college can take on a few different forms. The first is from the college or university. These can be broken down a number of ways between grants and scholarships. Depending on the institution, one may have to apply separately to be considered for these or the institution considers every application that year when selecting the recipients. It is important to look this up for every institution you are interested in because there can be deadlines for consideration and you don’t want to accidentally miss an opportunity.
External Scholarships and Grants
External scholarships, such as the Gates Millennium Scholarship, can pay for your education in full. Many of these scholarships will require one to do several essays and procure recommendations. These scholarships are normally highly competitive so managing your time is very important. There are even more scholarships that are for smaller amounts available for high school students and undergraduate students. When applying for any scholarship, one needs to be aware of how long that funding is good for and how many times/if it can be renewed again.
Most students fill out the FAFSA at least once and some students receive the Pell Grant. The amount of the Pell Grant may increase from year to year so staying aware of the current amount is important. Grants like the Pell Grant are not required to be paid back.
Combinations of Funding
If you receive enough money from different sources (example: scholarship for tuition, Pell Grant and grants from the institution to cover the rest
of the cost of attendance) paying close attention to whether or not your financial aid has received them all by the time your bill is due is important. Some institutions will modify your initial financial aid from the institution if outside funding comes in so checking in before the semester begins can help you plan and adjust.
Managing Financial Aid
Asking questions will never hurt you when it comes to managing your financial aid. If one has the Pell Grant, you will need to make sure you refill out the FAFSA every year. The same types of consideration deadlines will still exist so keep that in mind. Talking to your financial aid office early can help ease your stress about paperwork that may require specific signatures or documents. My institution required a parent’s signature on certain pieces of paperwork. After talking to the financial aid office, I found out that upperclassmen have their financial aid packages put together and later since the office is occupied with the incoming students until May.
If your financial aid pays for more than your tuition and room and board, then you may be able to receive a check for the surplus. Normally the total amount designated by your financial aid will be split between the semesters of that year. This surplus can be used for paying for books, supplies and anything else you may need. Talking to your financial aid office to figure out the easiest way to receive this check may be useful. Some institutions may require you to pick up the check in person, others may mail it to your mailbox and some may ask you to set up a direct deposit into a bank account. Normally the latter can be done by going through your institution’s electronic payment service. To set up a direct deposit you will need a routing number or an account number. Normally these can be found on the checks for your account or on your bills. Depending on your institution, you may not receive the refund at the very beginning of the semester. If you need the refund to pay for your books, you can always reimburse yourself once you get the check or you can talk to your professors about your situation.
Once you get your refund check, it is yours to do what you please with. I use mine to pay for my books and refill my car since I drive myself to college. I normally don’t use very much of mine for those things so I have a lot of it left over. I set aside a small amount for fun college related things and the rest of it goes into a separate account where I use it to help pay for any expenses that come up during the year. I like to invest in things that will help me make more money so I use my refund check to kick start any endeavor that I am undertaking like being a DJ on campus or getting sewing supplies to do tailoring on the side. Regardless of how you use it, staying on top of your financial aid will help you in the long run.