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Financial Aid – Getting Money for College

Going to college can be expensive, but financial aid and scholarships can make it much more affordable… sometimes even free! This article will give you some practical advice about applying for financial aid and scholarships. Make sure to check out the resources at the end of this article for places to start looking for scholarships.

Fill Out Your FAFSA

Applying for financial aid should always start with filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as early as you can. The FAFSA is one of the main ways to determine your eligibility for student financial aid.

Some of the financial aid you may be eligible for might include federal Pell Grants and/or work study. Pell Grants do not have to be repaid, and the amount you get depends on your financial need. For the 2022-23 school year, the maximum amount someone could receive via a Pell Grant was $6,895. Work study is where you have a part-time job on your college campus to receive additional funding – these funds are paid directly to you, whereas Pell Grant funds are paid to your college financial aid office. Depending on your college there may be a variety of jobs offered through work study from working at a library or dining hall to working at your university’s rec center.

Things to have on hand that will make filling out your FAFSA a speedy process:

  • Your FAFSA ID – If you haven’t made one before, go to this website to get started
  • Your social security number
  • Your driver’s license number
  • Your federal income tax return from the previous year
  • A list of the schools you are interested in attending, or the name of the school that you are attending

Follow Up with Your College About Your Financial Aid Package

Don’t be afraid to call your college’s financial aid office if you have a question about your financial aid package! Sometimes there may be a mistake, or there may be more options available to you.

Additionally, some schools may have scholarship opportunities specific to your college or department – be sure to ask about those and don’t miss an opportunity to seek additional aid.

Applying for Scholarships

Financial aid can determine if you are eligible for certain scholarships, so it’s very important to fill out your FAFSA. The FAFSA helps determine your “remaining financial need” – a number important for certain scholarships. Your “remaining financial need” is calculated by FAFSA by taking your “estimated family contribution” (how much money your family can contribute to your education) minus the cost of attending your university.

However, some scholarships do not consider a student’s financial need. Merit based scholarships are awarded to students based on academics, athletics, special-interests, and artistic or other talents.

Be sure to review the specific eligibility criteria for each scholarship to know if you qualify for those funds. Then, start the process of filling out applications for the scholarships you are eligible for.

For some advice regarding scholarship applications, check out these six tips. Some other things to remember are:

  • Start early and take time to edit your applications
  • Ask someone (or several people) to review your applications and to provide you with suggestions
  • Save all of your work – you might be able to reuse certain essays or parts of your applications to make the process faster for other applications
  • Follow up with scholarship organizations to make sure they received your applications and that your applications are complete
  • Ask people to write you letters of recommendation early (1-2 months before the due date) if possible
  • Write thank you letters for the people that wrote you letters or those who helped with your application process

Starting Your Scholarship Search

You probably qualify for a variety of scholarships based off your identity, income, or specific field of study. Cast a wide net when looking for scholarships. Stay organized and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there! Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask people for help. Here are a few good places to get started:

For additional information on financial aid and scholarships, check out the resources below:

Author: McKalee Steen is a member of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, and is currently a PhD candidate at UC Berkeley in the Environmental Science, Policy, and Management department. She is passionate about studying Indigenous land stewardship practices, providing resources for Indigenous youth, and the power of storytelling. 

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