Sunday, February 1, 2004

Common mistakes in the college aid game



THE 12TH YEAR
For 20,000 teenagers in Greater Cincinnati, this is it: the 12th Year.
Ambitious scholars, insufficient dollars
Early worrying saved financial scurry
Sacrifices produce rewards
Package of aid puts student through school
The Cincinnati Enquirer asked members of the National Association for College Admission Counseling to identify the most common mistakes families make with regard to financial aid. College officials, high-school guidance counselors and independent consultants responded with this list:

Not applying for aid because they think they won't qualify.

Assuming expensive private colleges are out of the question, when some may offer significant aid.

Waiting too long to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form with the U.S. Department of Education. The paperwork determines how much federal aid families may receive and can be submitted as early as Jan. 1 of the college-entering year. Many selective colleges make financial-aid decisions by Feb. 15, using information from this form.

The application process calls for figures from the current year's tax return, but families should not wait until they do their taxes to submit the forms, which are available on the Internet or from high school guidance counselors. Tax information can be estimated and corrected later.

Believing there are thousands of dollars available through scholarships if students will only search for them. Significant national scholarships go only to "superstars." Solid-but-not-spectacular students would be better off pursuing local scholarships for which there is less competition. High school guidance counselors collect information about these available scholarships. Many can also be found on free Web sites, such as www.fastweb.com.

Assuming financial aid from a college will continue past the first year. Families should check with colleges.

Starting at least two years late in learning about financial aid. Students and families should begin asking questions their freshman year in high school.

Failing to understand that financing college often means borrowing money and working.

Paying companies to search for aid or scholarships. Searches should be free. Paid services are often scams.

Assuming students will get a good deal at an out-of-state, public university. Many such schools reserve their need-based aid for in-state residents.




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