What They Don't Tell You about Financial Aid

by Natalie Holifield
(Denver, CO)

Upon becoming a high school senior I began preparation for college and, like most students, found it overwhelming. As a student who did not have much out of pocket cash (more like any out of pocket cash) to put toward college, financial aid was a must. Mentors, teachers and college representatives provided me with tips and advice on applying for scholarships, utilizing the web for resources such as FastWeb, helped me become a member of the Denver Scholarship Foundation (DSF) and brought me through the basic motions of financial aid. However, as a current student at the University of Denver I can say with confidence there are a ton of financial aid tricks that only a student can speak to.

First and foremost, I stress the importance of the aid I listed above. This is the ground work for any future aid and beginning with a high school scholarship resource, completing your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and obtaining good grades and a stunning GPA are a strong basis for being granted aid in the future. That being said, here’s the stuff they don’t tell you!

When applying for scholarships, be open. Apply for a variety of scholarships and don’t get too hung up on being one specific type of person based on the qualifications. This is not to say that you should ignore the guidelines scholarship committees set out, but sometimes it’s worth it to fill out an application that you may think is outside of your usual comfort zone. I was granted scholarships from sororities and religious groups that I never would have thought to consider. It never hurts to apply!

Along these same lines, it’s never too late to apply. This certainly does not mean submitting scholarships after the set deadline but rather that it’s okay and extremely beneficial to continue your pursuit of scholarships through graduation and even into the summer. In fact, this is often the point in time that students stop pursuing scholarships and in my experience, this gives those that continue a better chance at summer scholarships due to the decreased number of applicants. Start scholarships as early as junior year and continue them through your summer after senior year. This will be a lot of work and commitment but well worth it. At the same time, if your high school offers college courses for free (as my high school did) or at a reduced price, take advantage of them. I was able to complete a portion of my prerequisites this way for free in high school and in the end, taking the courses saved me thousands of dollars that I would have spent at my university.

The most intimidating aspect financial aid is often the college essays. While applying for scholarships I learned a lot from examining the essays from scholarships that I did not receive.
Some of the best advice I can give is to be yourself and no one else in the essays and personal statements you write. Often times the questions can feel leading and make you feel you need to answer a certain way but in reality there is no correct answer, no concrete response that the committee or school is looking for in most cases. Don’t be afraid to talk about yourself not only in an academic sense but in a personal (not too personal!) sense as well and don’t be afraid to add humor! Always write in a professional, grammatically correct manner but remember that more often than not creativity is welcome.

My final piece of advice on writing your essays, and maybe the most important, is to not allow them to be edited so much that who you are becomes diluted. Almost all of my essays that were not accepted were those that I allowed multiple teachers and mentors to edit, chop and remix. Reviewing your essays with a mentor, counselor or teacher is wise but make sure you’re still the one that comes out in your writing.
Encompassing all types of aid is also important. Learn how to navigate your way through federal, state and private grants and scholarships, university specific scholarships and on campus jobs and/or work study. I am a first year student at the University of Denver and when I was unable to obtain a full ride scholarship such as the Daniels Fund Scholarship, I continued my financial aid search in order to try and obtain what Daniels Scholars had been given. Through these tips I have provided and my on campus job as a cashier, I was able to fund my entire year and avoid taking out student loans. I still have a ways to go and will need to continue my financial aid hunt each year but I’m confident that it can be done. In keeping up with my grades and utilizing my aid to the fullest I was made a member of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars. For the aid that you are granted, make it count and realize both that you are worth it and that someone else believes in you and your academic ability. Good luck and happy financial aid hunting!

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

Comment from your friendly team at College Financial Aid Advice

Thank you Natalie for your excellent essay on What They Don't Tell You about Financial Aid. Thanks for sharing these tips. Best of luck to you.

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