Financial aid tips from Honolulu Kaplan Center - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Financial aid tips from Honolulu Kaplan Center

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Paying for college is a struggle for many families, especially in this tough economy. But the Honolulu Kaplan Center says there are still a lot of opportunities out there for students to take advantage of. College admissions expert Ken Newman joins us this morning.

Promising News for Applicants

According to a recent National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators survey, 55 percent of colleges said they increased aid for the 2009-2010 academic year -indicating that as the economy worsened, colleges stepped up.

The maximum Pell Grant will increase from $5,350 to $5,550 for the 2010-2011 academic year - though that doesn't nearly keep up with colleges' tuition and fee increases.

The online version the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) - available since January 1 at www.fafsa.gov is now shorter and simpler.

  • Fewer questions. "Enhanced skip logic" lets students skip questions that don't apply.
  • Friendlier navigation. Student and parent sections are marked and color-coded, and screens include an easy-to-find "help and hints" section.
  • More information. Students who express interest in particular colleges now get an instant estimate of Pell Grant and loan eligibility and links to graduation rates and other information.
  • Less duplication. Later this month, families applying for aid for this spring can import tax data from the IRS for up to 18 questions. That feature should be available by summer for 2010-11.

Sources of Financial Aid

FAFSA

The best place to start the financial aid process is by filling out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the gateway to the majority of financial aid awarded to college students.

  • This basic required form is a must for students looking for federal financial aid programs like Pell Grants, Federal Work-Study, Federal Perkins Loans and Stafford Loans.
  • Applications have been open since January 1.
  • Students who apply early have an advantage - especially with more students likely applying this year. Keep in mind that the government and other institutions have limited funds - so the earlier an application is processed, the more money will be available for that application at that time.
  • The earlier you get your application in, the earlier you'll be able to receive your award - which gives you more time to evaluate your options, negotiate (not with FAFSA., only with colleges) if possible, or respond to any errors or questions on the application.
  • Remember - submitting a FAFSA doesn't guarantee you will get aid, but not submitting one guarantees you won't.

Institutional Aid

This is money awarded by many colleges, universities and private scholarship programs (e.g. civic programs, industry associations or other institutions)Institutional aid comes in three forms (all federal aid is need-based):

  • Don't be afraid to ask a school for a re-evaluation. Learn the art of the bargain! Keep in mind that you don't necessarily have to take the first financial aid package that is offered to you. Schools WANT to work with families and students to find a way to make themselves affordable. If applicable, send copies of award letters from other schools for comparison.
  • The Department of Education has actually encouraged colleges to make financial aid award adjustments for students who need them.

Scholarships

This is financial aid awarded for various achievements - based on merit, need or community service. Scholarships can be awarded for just about anything - accomplishments, race, membership in certain organizations, parent's community involvement, grades, anticipated field of study, etc. Students should take the time to formally search for scholarships.

  • Do your homework on scholarships. This is free money, and a significant amount of scholarship money goes unclaimed because no one applies. Most civic groups, unions, professional associations offer some sort of scholarship programs - and you don't have to be a member to apply.
  • Don't be afraid to go off the beaten path. You'd be amazed at some of the unique specialty scholarships that are available: from everything from left-handed to students interested in composing music about the beauty of space to duck callers!
  • Also, if the scholarship opportunity seems too good to be true, it probably is. Use common sense and do your homework on the organization offering the scholarship.
  • And apply before senior year - bank the scholarship money and have one less thing to worry about senior year. It will expand your college options.
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