Paying for college
Four great Web sites can help make your college and financial aid application process a little less stressful.
Piles and piles of paper lay stacked on my desk, on the floor next to my desk and on my seat—college applications, essays, homework and stuff for my portfolio. Where to start? With all the stress I had, I was relieved that I had a plan for at least one aspect of the college process: financial aid. I’ve been receiving tidbits of information regarding financial aid from my high school since ninth grade and researching other sources since the beginning of eleventh grade. I have found four great Web sites for anyone who is college bound, not just for seniors. And since January is the month to start applying for financial aid, I thought I’d share the information I have with you.
In my opinion, the best Web site for financial aid info is http://fastweb.com. I learned about it in my ninth grade Educational Career Planning (ECP) class when a UCLA student talked to us about college and financial aid. On this site, you can enter all of your information including your background and interests, academic history and future plans and in a matter of minutes, you have a whole list of the different scholarships and financial aid available to you. Every single scholarship on fastweb.com will tell you when the deadline is, how many awards they give out, how much money they give away, and who qualifies.
As of today, I have 47 scholarships waiting for me to fill out and send. Not all of them are right for me, but it sure helps to know that there is money available out there. For example, I am not applying to the Duracell/NSTA Scholarship Contest National Science Teacher Association. That scholarship requires that I build a device powered by a Duracell battery with a two-page description and schematic of the device. Oh yes! With my Cs and Ds in science, I am such the science person to actually create something like that.
One scholarship that I am definitely applying for is the Teen H.I.P. Award. It’s for nonsmokers and students who have a minimum 2.5 GPA. Along with my application, I have to submit a one-page essay that describes what keeps me from smoking as well as my participation in extracurricular activities. I also need transcripts from my last full year of school and two letters of recommendation from teachers, coaches, employers or guidance counselors. I’m also applying for scholarships that involve essay writing and awards for journalism, since I am stronger in English than in math.
You don’t have to wait until you’re a senior to sign up at fastweb. Do it now and get an idea of how to prepare for your scholarship search. The scholarships are updated daily and fastweb.com will send you weekly newsletters through e-mail about your scholarship deadlines as well as other important college information. The e-mails may be annoying sometimes, but when you get as close to your college days as I am, you will be very grateful that these messages are getting to you. All the information you receive is absolutely FREE!
To sign up, visit their Web site and click on "Start Your Scholarship Search." Fill out all the information they ask for. All of their instructions are easy and self-explanatory. The best thing about filling out the information is that if you miss one question, the Web site won’t let you proceed until you fill everything out. Take advantage of all of the features they offer. Once all your information is complete, within minutes, a list of all the scholarships you qualify for will show up. It is so great! If you don’t have Internet access at home, go to the library or to your school’s library or computer lab and open a free e-mail account at yahoo.com or hotmail.com so that fastweb.com has a place to send you the information. Check your mailbox at least once a week. You can access fastweb.com from any location. Very convenient.
If you’re a senior, the second thing you should do after you sign up with Fastweb is file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) before March 2, 2001! Through the FAFSA, you can apply for federal and state student grants, work study and loans. Depending on your family’s income level, you might get a Cal Grant
There are two different Cal Grants: Cal Grant A and Cal Grant B. Cal Grant A Entitlement Awards require a 3.0 GPA and provide grant funds to help cover tuition and fee costs for low- and middle-income students to attend four-year colleges and universities. Cal Grant B Entitlement Awards require a 2.0 GPA and initially provide grant find up to $1,551 to low-income students to cover general expenses at both community and four-year colleges.
To apply for these Cal Grants, you must absolutely file a FAFSA. Cal Grant applicants must also file a Grade Point Average (GPA) Verification Form. See your counselor to obtain this form or visit http://www.csac.ca.gov or call the Commission’s toll-free number (888) 224-7268.
Another great Web site for everyone is http://www.embark.com. It’s a Web site that allows you to research and figure out what colleges you’re interested in, apply online, and help finance your tuition. When I first visited embark.com, I liked all of its features. It was easy to find my way around it. I clicked on undergraduate schools and it led me to five different easy steps. Embark.com has a matchmaker feature where you answer surveys regarding the qualities that you would like your college to have and after a couple of minutes, it gives you a list of all the colleges that you might be interested in. This feature is great for students who haven’t figured out exactly which colleges they want to apply to. There are colleges out there for you!
Embark’s "prepare" feature supplies you with tons of information of how to prepare yourself for exams like the SAT, ACT and AP, and how to chose a major. Its "apply" feature lets you apply to certain colleges online or directly e-mail the school for more information about their programs and financial aid. Its "finance" feature has a calculator that estimates the amount of money that you and your parents can afford to pay with information that you provide. Then it tells you the total cost and helps you determine saving strategies. It’s a great Web site with five easy steps. Check it out.
The College Board Web site at http://www.collegeboard.com helps you plan before you go to college, as well as helping with the actual application process. It offers practice exams such as the SAT, PSAT and AP, has test registration info and dates and helps you explore college and career options. It has information for applying to colleges and it allows you to register for the PROFILE Application, which helps colleges and universities award nonfederal student aid funds. You can also get the PROFILE Application from your counselor. But seniors, you should have registered by now or at least four weeks before the earliest school or scholarship program priority filing date, which means the date the school or program tells you that the College Board must receive your completed PROFILE Application. PROFILE charges a nonrefundable $7 registration fee and $6 if completed online, plus $16 for each school or program which you want information sent. The cost covers the processing and reporting of information.
So for anyone who is college bound, take a look at all the Web sites I recommended. Don’t feel that you can’t apply to college because you can’t afford it. There is money out there for you. from California’s Student Aid Commission. According to the Governor’s office, "the Cal Grant Program is the statewide, state-funded, educational opportunity program focused on assisting students pay for a post-secondary education." In 2000, Governor Gray Davis signed a law that guarantees Cal Grants to every student who meets the financial need, grade point average and general eligibility requirements.