A Letter to My Siblings

by Elle Larsen
(Saint Paul, MN USA)

Spring 2012 Scholarship Contest Winner

Spring 2012 Scholarship Contest Winner

Dear Siblings, This year you have seen all the processes I have gone through for college. You saw me writing essays last summer, submitting applications through the fall, and struggling to choose a college through the winter and spring. But there was one thing you didn’t see and that was the financial aid process I went through. You are a junior now, and I promise that one way or another your senior year will be your busiest and most exciting so I want you to be ready. That is why I am sharing the six things I wish I had known at this time last year. Think of it as a financial aid cheat sheet.

If you aren’t registered with a scholarship website, do it NOW. All you do is sign up and answer a few questions so they know what scholarships apply to you, and then they show you your matches. Try using Cappex, Fastweb, and College Prowler if you aren’t sure where to start. Sometimes your parents’ places of work have scholarships available to you, or even stores like Nordstroms and Wal-Mart have scholarships available. When you find one you like start the essay as soon as possible. Make sure you don’t procrastinate otherwise many a deadline will pass you by.

On your financial journey, FAFSA is going to be huge for you. It opens in January each year so do yourself a favor and have tax returns and pay stubs ready in advance. Have a parent/guardian or counselor help you fill out the FAFSA. It determines your EFC, or Expected Family Contribution. It also tells colleges what kind of financial aid would be right for you so make sure to take time and care completing it. To fill out the FAFSA go to fafsa.ed.gov. It is absolutely free to fill it out and submit it. There are some websites like fafsa.com that trick you into using them instead of the real FAFSA. Remember, if it ever asks you to pay for their services it’s not the real thing. I made the mistake of filling out my whole FAFSA at fafsa.com, and then I had to fill it out all over again at the real government website.

Once you are accepted to some colleges, look online to see what kind of other scholarships they offer their students, and apply for them. You can also call or email the financial aid office to talk to someone who has plenty of experience helping students like you pay for college. Sometimes talking to a real person can get you the inside scoop.

Use google to find unexpected scholarships throughout your junior and senior years. I found scholarships just for tall people, girls only, people with certain last names, people who knit, scholarships for blondes, your intended major, your sport, and other odd and overlooked topics. When there is a scholarship that is for a very specific group of people, less people are eligible for it and you have a better chance of getting it.

Utilize your school’s guidance counselors. In most schools it is part of their job to help you unravel the mysteries of college, money included. If you have questions or need help, counselors are seasoned veterans. They have seen it all and they have tons of resources and connections to help you. Some high schools even have college scholarships that are open only to current students, or other financial aid that you might not know about.

As far as student loans go, they can be a double-edged sword. On one hand loans can pay for a good chunk of college each year, but on the other hand debt can be tricky. As part of a financial aid package schools can award subsidized and unsubsidized loans. With subsidized loans, the government pays the interest while you are in school, but with unsubsidized loans the interest accumulates while you are in school. It is important to be aware of those differences. Debt can be a scary thing especially when you are faced with more than you can handle, but some don’t require you to start paying them off until six months to a year after you graduate. Don’t rule them out completely but make sure you do extensive research on loans before you get one.

When it comes to financial aid, here are some words to live by:
-You have resources, so use them!
-Don’t procrastinate
-Ask for help
-Do your research
-Use your time wisely
-Never tell yourself you can’t apply for a scholarship because you think you won’t get it. You definitely won’t get it if you don’t apply.
-You don’t have to be a straight A student to get a scholarship.

If you handle your financial aid in a timely manner and use all the tools available to you, your experience will hopefully be simpler than mine was. I want you to have the least amount of stress possible when it comes to financial aid. Hopefully this will make your journey a little easier! You saw me do it all this year and I made it through. Now it’s your turn.
Good luck!


Your Big Sister

Read more College Financial Aid Tips from other students and parents who have been through process.

Comment from your friendly team at College Financial Aid Advice

Congratulations Elle on winning our Spring 2012 $1000 college scholarship contest. Best of luck to you at the College of Saint Benedict in Minnesota and your future career in nursing.

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