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How Do I Start the Financial Aid Application Process?

Going to college is expensive, no matter where you go. And the financial aid process can be overwhelming. Here's some expert advice to get you started.

Michael Milone, PhDMichael Milone, PhD
Educational Consultant, Research Psychologist, and Writer
When you are evaluating colleges, be sure to include the availability of financial aid as one feature. You should not, of course, base your decision solely on cost, but it is a critical feature. Early in your high school years, you should spend some time looking at colleges that interest you. Include in your search criteria things that are truly important, like the graduation rate, support system, majors available to you, and such, but don’t ignore financial aid.

Explore multiple funding possibilities. Look at the state and federal programs that offer scholarships as well as private sources. And don’t limit yourself to one source of financial aid. Colleges have many ways of helping you with tuition, as do private organizations. What is surprising is that in any given year, millions of dollars of scholarships are not used. Another thing to keep in mind is that applying for financial aid does not make you a less worthy candidate for a college. This is true from your local community college to the elite schools. At Harvard University, for example, about 70% of the students receive some form of financial aid.

When you receive financial aid, be sure you understand what you have to do to keep it. There are usually strings attached, like a minimum grade point average and staying in the good graces of the college by not doing anything completely stupid. With a little dedication, you can fulfill the expectations of the financial aid. Think of getting decent grades as your job, and the financial aid is your pay. What is even more important is recognizing that getting good grades might even earn you additional financial aid.

After you’ve started, make the most of your application by checking out our article: 5 FAFSA Tips to Get the Most Financial Aid.

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