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Apply Now For 2013-2014 Student Financial Aid

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Don’t miss out on saving big bucks on school come this fall!

The FAFSA is available, and anyone interested in applying for financial aid for the next school year should complete it now. You’ll need your tax return (if you file one) and your parents’ tax return for 2012. If your tax returns aren’t ready yet, you can amend your FAFSA when it is. But don’t delay getting started.

Reasons to apply now

The most important reason to apply now is that the deadline to apply for many scholarships and grants is rapidly approaching. February 1st in some cases, March 1st in many others.

Even if the clock is not running out on the program you’re interested in, many programs will run out of money. Scholarships and grants are not bottomless pits. Far from it. In fact, each fund can only help a finite number of qualified applicants. Once that number is reached, even if you meet the criteria, there won’t be any more money to give out.

How to apply

Go to the FAFSA website to apply and check your school’s website to find out what other steps will be required of you. Many schools, like Princeton, have their own forms you’ll need to complete.  In any case, you can always call the financial aid office at your school with any questions you have. Many schools even offer financial aid workshops or individual assistance to those who need help filling out the FAFSA or other forms.

Some third-party services, like The College Board, collect information that is later sent to your college or university to qualify you for grants and scholarships. The information is used as part of the financial aid qualification and disbursement process at the school, and some schools require it. Contact your school’s financial aid office to find out if you should complete the College Board profile.

If you’ve never applied for student financial aid before, you should know a few things. The FAFSA is the document upon which most aid decisions are made. Student aid comes in four forms: loans, grants, scholarships and work study opportunities. One type of grant is called the Pell Grant. It’s a federal grant offered to students whose families are in the lowest income bracket (families are not expected to contribute more than $5,200). Your FAFSA will determine your family’s expected contribution. Pell Grants and student loans are available all year round. Scholarships and work study awards are given out early, and then are generally not available again until the following year.

Scholarships and grants

Scholarship and grant funds are given at the discretion of whoever owns the funds. For example, you’re probably familiar with sports scholarships offered by schools to talented athletes who agree to compete for the school. But countless private entities also offer scholarships. In fact, GoDaddy is offering ten $10,000 scholarships right now to students with a great GPA, a great SAT score, and who submit a winning 500-word essay on technology.

It’s worth your while to research scholarships and grants, as they can be a very effective way to reduce the cost of higher education. One need only Google around a few phrases that include the word “scholarships” or “grants” to find some interesting opportunities for free money for school. Tall Clubs International offers $1,000 scholarships to very tall incoming freshmen. Trade organizations, like the American Welding Society, offer scholarships for education relating to that industry. The Ayn Rand Institute gives away $100,000 annually to student winners of essay contests. Grants For Women lists pertinent information for hundreds of grants available to girls and women. Whatever your circumstances or chosen field of study, there’s a good chance some free money is out there for you if you apply in time. (These private entities each have their own application processes and do not rely on the FAFSA like your school does.)

Your school can give you information about their specific scholarship opportunities. Ball State also provides this list of free scholarship search services. Don’t pay for a scholarship search unless and until you exhaust the options on the free sites, and only if you simply cannot take the time to do more research yourself.

Here are a few tips from MSNBC on maximizing your financial aid options.

The New York Times has a regular section called The Choice for college students and their parents. Click here to find very useful questions and answers about the FAFSA.

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Image © Joshua Heller

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