Trying to figure out how to pay for college can be an overwhelming challenge for both parents and students. Scholarships, grants, financial aid and loans are available to pay for tuition and books, and knowing how to apply for funding doesn’t have to be a headache.
“The trick is to start early, early, early,” says Kerry Hornibrook, the director of school advancement at Cascia Hall Preparatory School. “Cascia students meet with the college counseling office freshman year to begin discussing the college search and the application process.”
Not such an early bird? Traci Nassar, the college counselor at Jenks High School, says researching for scholarships during sophomore or junior year is okay, too.
“Most scholarships are for seniors, but students should start researching for the scholarships during sophomore or junior year,” says Nassar. “This will let them know what scholarships are available and the requirements for scholarships.”
This knowledge may also motivate students to get their grades up, work on ACT or SAT test preparation and get more involved in leadership or community service activities, says Nassar.
Confused as to what type of funding to apply for?
In order to be successful they have to be very organized and understand that they will submit many more applications than they are going to receive in scholarships. Don’t get discouraged, and be persistent.
“The terms ‘scholarship’ and ‘grant’ are often used interchangeably, but there are usually differences between these two forms of aid,” says Hornibrook. “Most scholarships are merit-based, which means that they are awarded to students with certain qualities, not just proven academic or athletic ability but also those who have special talents in drama, music, debate, art and even leadership skills.
“Financial aid is the amount of a student’s total cost of attendance that isn’t covered by the expected family contribution or outside grants and scholarships,” continues Hornibrook. “A student must demonstrate financial need to be eligible for need-based financial assistance programs.”
Families who earn less than $50,000 per year should enroll their students in Oklahoma Promise no later than the end of sophomore year, says Nassar. Oklahoma Promise is a higher learning access program that pays tuition at Oklahoma’s state universities.
Beginning January of senior year, parents and students should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
“This is how students can qualify for federal financial aid in the form of grants or free money that is not paid back or federal student loans, which must be paid back,” says Nassar. “Federal financial aid is based on family income, number of students in college, age of the parents, et cetera.”
Not all families will qualify for federal financial aid, but some colleges, especially private colleges, offer financial aid based on these same criteria, says Nassar. “The more expensive colleges may provide their own financial aid to families who didn’t qualify for federal financial aid. These colleges usually use the FAFSA to determine if families qualify for school-based financial aid, so families should complete the FAFSA even if they think they won’t qualify for aid.”
All types of funding have deadlines, so it pays to be organized.
“I always tell students that they have to treat the scholarship process like a job or another class,” says Nassar. “They have to do their research, write essays, complete applications and meet deadlines.
“In order to be successful they have to be very organized and understand that they will submit many more applications than they are going to receive in scholarships,” she continues. “Don’t get discouraged, and be persistent.”
To learn more about Oklahoma Promise, visit www.okpromise.org.