Applying for student financial aid can certainly seem confusing and overwhelming! The maze of applications and deadlines and various programs and eligibility requirements can easily dishearten the college-bound student.
College funding consultants, also called financial aid consultants, are in the business of helping students and parents make their way through the process. Typically charging anywhere from $50 up to $1000, the financial aid consultant will assist in filling out the paperwork, finding scholarships, and offering advice that can help you get the most financial aid possible.
All that is well and good, but do you actually NEED this help?
As in all businesses, there are good and bad financial aid consultants. There are ethical concerns, as some consultants have been known to give misleading advice. At best, a consultant may simply give information that the student could have easily found out for free; at worst, an unethical consultant may even encourage students and parents to commit fraud by using loopholes in the system.
The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is the first step in the financial aid process in the United States. The FAFSA is a very straight-forward application, which asks for information from the student’s (and parents’, if applicable) previous year income tax return. You simply provide information regarding your earnings and assets, which will be used to determine your level of financial need. Other personal information, such as age, race, and your parents’ education levels will also be used to locate other specialized programs you may be eligible for.
The FAFSA form comes with a detailed factsheet, but if you have questions, there are many ways of getting answers:
FAFSA telephone support: (1-800-4-FED-AID)
FAFSA online customer service: (http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/faq012.htm)
FAFSA main website: (http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/)
Student aid on the web: (http://studentaid.ed.gov/PORTALSWebApp/students/english/index.jsp)
Free publications: (http://studentaid.ed.gov/PORTALSWebApp/students/english/publications.jsp)
Your local library can be a fantastic source of information about financial aid, including scholarships, grants, and contests. Ask your librarian for books on financial aid and scholarships. There are many publications that list scholarships and grants available for almost any imaginable student situation.
The internet also contains a wealth of financial aid information. To ensure you get accurate and legal information, stick to federal government (.gov) sites and sites that are recommended by the federal government. In your search for scholarships especially, be wary of websites that require you to pay for scholarship information. That information is typically free to obtain- in publications available at your library- but does require some research.
Financial aid reference materials to look for at the library:
Your state department of education (http://www.ed.gov/about/contacts/state/index.html), as well as the financial aid department of the college you plan to attend, are also excellent resources for more information and assistance in the financial aid process. In fact, you will be in close contact with your school’s financial aid department, once your FAFSA has been processed.
As you can see, all the resources you need to navigate the financial aid process are available to you right now, for free! Why pay a consultant to do your homework for you?