Your financial aid questions answered - part 1

By Tamara

Over the years, I've had the privilege of helping many parents and students navigate through the world of college financial aid. It’s always a pleasure to steer people in the right direction. In fact, it’s what I love most about my job. Let’s face it; figuring out where to find financial aid and how to get it can seem like an impossible task sometimes. Who’s eligible? What makes one scholarship essay better than another? How much is available? These are all great questions that repeatedly come up in the world of financial aid. I hope that sharing these responses will help make your experiences with financial aid a little easier and a lot less intimidating.

My son is a high school junior. When should we start looking for scholarships?

Many parents and students make the mistake of waiting until senior year to begin the search for scholarships. This puts students at a disadvantage, especially those who may need significant financial assistance. Students should begin their scholarship search as soon as they enter high school, giving them more time to grasp the scholarship application process and increasing their chances of winning more awards. Use a free online search service, such as our Scholarship Directory, to quickly find scholarships that match his unique talents, skills and needs.

Does your financial aid package increase or decrease each year?

There is no easy answer for this question, as there are several variables involved. College financial aid is awarded based on several factors, including information received in your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), enrollment status, and even your grade point average. Changes to any of these factors (and others) may result in changes to your financial aid package. Some colleges are also known for front-loading award offers (giving you a significant amount freshman year and greatly reducing it for subsequent years), so it’s a good idea to ask about the average award package for returning students, as well.

How can international students increase their chances of winning a scholarship for study at a U.S. college?

International scholarships are typically awarded to students through the college, so contacting the schools you are interested in attending should be your first task. Many of the scholarship programs are merit-based, so you will need to score well on the TOEFL® and the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), as well as maintain a high grade point average. Targeting schools that offer higher award packages for international students may also help. You can find specific information on various institutional awards by visiting EducationUSA.

My parents expect me to cover all my college expenses with scholarships. Is this realistic?

Probably not. The majority of students cover college expenses through a combination of grants, scholarships, work-study, and loans. This does not mean you should forget about applying for scholarships. The earlier you start, the better. Don’t overlook smaller awards that can help cover books and other expenses, and commit to completing at least five to seven scholarship applications every month. The more scholarships you can win, the less student loan debt you will have upon graduation.

If you have any questions or concerns about scholarships and other college financial aid, please feel free to post your questions in our comment section or on our Facebook wall. Don't forget to check out part 2 and part 3 in the series, too!