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The College Financial Aid Application
A college financial aid application is often all that stands between a student and his ability to attend college or university. Filling it out correctly can make the difference between receiving enough financial aid to fully pay for tuition or having to pay out of pocket.
Which College Financial Aid Application Should You Fill Out?
All college bound students should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which is a general application that allows a student to apply for multiple types of financial aid with one form. The FAFSA will be used to locate financial aid from federal and state governments and from individual colleges and universities.
- Student Loans
- Work Study
A student can enter several colleges or universities onto the FASA using "Federal School Codes" unique to each institution. Any schools listed on a student's FAFSA will receive a copy of the application, which they can then use to determine the student's eligibility for scholarships and other financial aid provided by the school.
Many other scholarships and grants exist which use their own application forms. These may be funded and awarded by corporations, small businesses, community organizations, religious groups, or even individuals. Early in a student's high school years, it's a good idea to begin researching the available scholarships to learn which ones he is eligible to apply for.
The more financial aid applications that a student fills out, the more chances she has to maximize her total financial aid package. Relying on the financial aid available through the FAFSA works for some students, but it does limit the amount of funds a student can receive. Some of the largest scholarships awarded each year are funded by private corporations, but the awarding committees will never see a student's information unless she fills out their unique application.
A high school student's guidance counselor can provide a list of local and national scholarships and may be able to suggest specific ones for which the student is eligible. The internet is an excellent place to search for scholarships, especially ones awarded nationally.
It can also be beneficial for a student to telephone local community groups or organizations to inquire whether they provide financial aid to local students. Many financial aid dollars go unawarded each year because no eligible students apply. This is especially true for small scholarships awarded by local groups that are not widely known. Churches and other religious groups in the area may provide financial aid as well.
The Perfect College Financial Aid Application
A student could consider the college financial aid application as a small portrait of himself. It's a way of introducing a snapshot, a peak into his life, to the committees that award each scholarship. The student can't talk to the awarding committee in person so he needs to present an excellent picture of himself through the application. Many factors will have an impact on how the application is viewed:
- Being filled out completely and correctly
- Presenting positive information
Neatness on the Application
The first impression of a student's college financial aid application comes before the committee members even begin to read the information. Each application should be submitted in as neat and professional a condition as possible.
The entire application should be filled out using a typewriter or a blue or black ink pen in the student's neatest handwriting. (Some applications may specify only black ink.) If the answers are illegible, after all, the application will be rejected.
A student should take care to avoid wrinkling the application or spilling a drink or food onto it. If the paper is accidentally stained or damaged, it would be better to obtain a new application.
For the most professional look, a student can leave the application flat and mail it in a large manila envelope. Though this shouldn't have a direct impact on the committee's final decision, it can help the student's application to make a favorable impression.
A Complete and Correct Application
Unless a question is marked 'optional,' every field on the college financial aid application should be filled out. An incomplete application almost guarantees a rejection. Most applications will require a signature and date as well.
It's also very important to ensure that each question is answered correctly. For example, in the income portion of an application, a student should carefully verify whether she is supposed to enter her personal income, her parents' income, or her family's total income. The answer can make a tremendous difference!
Of course, the address, phone number, social security number, and other identifying information should be checked and double-checked before submitting the application. All answers should also be checked for correct spelling and capitalization.
If the application includes an essay question, it's usually a good idea to write the answer on separate paper first. The essay should then be proofread carefully, edited if necessary, and finally rewritten on the actual application.
Presenting Positive Information
Each scholarship or grant has different criteria for awarding it, and a student should fully understand the criteria when filling out each application. Many scholarship committees like to see a well-rounded student who has been involved with various groups both at school and in the community.
Students should take time to think back over their middle school and high school years to remember all of the activities they have participated in. Every activity or membership should be listed. As examples:
- Sports teams or athletic clubs
- Debate team
- Choral or dance team
- Religious groups like Awanas or a Bible quiz team
- Community and civic groups like Lions Club or Rotary Club
Volunteer service and jobs can also be mentioned on a college financial aid application. Possibilities include serving at a soup kitchen, working with Habitat for Humanity, babysitting, and helping with filing or bookkeeping at a relative's business. A student's unique life experiences helps to enhance his application.