To get student financial aid, one must know where to look. Generally speaking, there are three good places for an undergraduate student to investigate: the student's high school, the college the student plans to attend, and the Internet.
- Talk to the high school counselors. One of their jobs is to assist students who plan to attend institutions of higher education. Certainly, all high school counselors should have copies of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which is the essential first step. The FAFSA is used by colleges to determine the student's eligibility for federal student aid such as Pell Grants and Stafford Loans. High school counselors are often very familiar with local scholarships. All towns have businesses that offer scholarships to students. The trick is finding them and high school counselors can be an invaluable asset in that regard.
- Every institution of higher learning has a financial aid office. The college financial aid advisers will be able to go over every detail of the financial aid process, from filling out the FAFSA to applying for scholarships. Most schools have internal scholarships that are specific to that school. The only way to know about these financial opportunities is to contact the financial aid office. In addition, the college financial aid adviser is the best person to ask about state grants. Nearly every state offers some sort of grant for those who seek a higher education. The eligibility for most is determined by the FAFSA, but it's important to check with the school to see if there are other requirements.
- Search the Internet for scholarships. There are literally thousands of scholarships out there. It's a common misconception that all scholarships are based solely on academic achievement. Admittedly, most are, but not all. There are some that look at ethnicity, need, or other factors. Submitting application after application for scholarships can be tiring, but it's not unlike searching for a job. Sometimes one has to send out a hundred applications before that one perfect match is found. The more you apply for, the better your chances of receiving awards that will make your college experience that much easier.
Graduate students have options for financial aid as well. While the second two points above apply to graduate students as well, there are some additional options out there.
- The area of study the student is interested in may lead him or her to specific awards. For instance, there are specific loan programs for students studying business (Business Access Loan), medical (Medical Access Loan), and law (Law Access Loan). Those three loans are offered by the Access Group, a private lender.
- Scholarships and fellowships, which do not have to be repaid, are available for graduate students. Because graduate study is so much more specific than undergraduate work, the scholarship search engine at FastWeb is very useful. This free search engine requests specific information from the student and then provides of list of scholarships and fellowships he may be eligible for.