By Nicholas Williams, 17, Daniel Murphy HS
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I thought only the rich, the athletes and the geniuses go to college. What about me? I have dreams to become a doctor or an engineer. How can I go to college without proper funding? I never worried about loans and scholarships, or even where I’m going. And now it’s the fall, and the class of 2000 has been diagnosed with "senioritis."

I decided to do my homework on financial aid to find out what it is and how to get it. To apply for financial aid, you must submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. You should check the appropriate boxes to indicate what kind of financial aid you’d consider: grants, student and parent loans, scholarships and work-study (see our glossary on the next page). Return the application to the processor in the envelope provided. The FAFSA form is free so don’t worry! You can pick up a copy at a library, your local college, or ask your college counselor for one.

For 2000-2001, all seniors should apply after January 1, 2000. Don’t complete the FAFSA on the web or sign, date, or mail your FAFSA before January 1, 2000.

To determine if you are eligible for financial aid, colleges take into consideration three things: the total cost of attendance, the amounts and types of financial aid they can offer, and the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Seniors, when you receive your financial aid award letter from each college you’ve been accepted to, take some time to consider your options before you make a final decision. As you and your family analyze your award, ask yourself: How much of the award is in grants? How much of the award is in loans? What are the terms of any loan being offered—the interest rate, when you have to pay it back? By answering these questions, you and your family will have an idea of how much you are expected to pay for your college tuition.

Families should not be afraid to tactfully challenge the financial aid amount if they feel there is a mistake or oversight. If there are special circumstances that may not have been evident on the financial aid applications, the family should notify the aid office in writing and request a review.

During the summer, I interviewed college students at UCLA about financial aid for this story. Danniel Becham, a 19-year-old sophomore at UCLA, pays for tuition with grants and loans.

"Grants are great to apply for because it’s free money," she says. She also works as a receptionist at the Athletic Department on campus.

I asked her if I should get a job while at college. "Unless you’re rich," she says, "you will definitely need a job."

If you are attending college on some kind of scholarship or grant, remember that they don’t pay for your rent, books, food, clothes, or any other "hidden expenses." When you get your paycheck, there is something you must take care of before you begin to spend your money: you must first pay your bills.

Becham says "It’s difficult to manage your check for the first time. Don’t overspend on things you don’t need, only use your money for essential things. You may need to purchase a book, or forget to pay a bill. Always have cash saved for emergencies."

I talked with Mellany Myers, a 24-year-old graduate student from UCLA who was offered a work-study scholarship by the Urban Planning department. Departments in colleges are funded by many organizations to help pay for students who wish to study that major. Mellany said "I didn’t save too much money before college and the scholarship I was given helped me tremendously."

Scholarships are for everyone. Organizations offer scholarships for students of different races, sexual orientation, gender, disability and religious background, just to name a few. No matter who you are, there is a scholarship out there that is just right for you. An example would be the Education and Research Junior Graduate Award which is awarded to any U.S. citizen with an interest in construction, engineering or civil engineering. The amount awarded is $7,500.

Scholarships are free money, but you must work hard to get them

Brady Huang, a 21-year-old senior at the University Of Rochester in New York, is going to college on an academic scholarship, which is based on his high school GPA. He says that the scholarship pays for $10,000 of his yearly tuition and his parents pay for the rest. His disadvantage of having an academic scholarship is that he must keep his grades at a certain level in order to keep his scholarship.

Scholarships don’t come easy. You have to research which scholarships are available for you and apply to them before their deadlines. There are books that list scholarships such as The A’s and B’s of Academic Scholarships by Anna Leider and Ann Schimke; and The Minority and Women’s Complete Scholarship Book by Student Services LLC. If you don’t know where to start, go to your college counselor or local public or college library and ask "Do you have books about scholarships and financial aid available?" It’s that easy. You should also contact the college campus Financial Aid Office or Scholarship Office to obtain application forms and additional information.

Don’t let the thought of repaying a loan scare you into not applying for them. Loans have their advantage too. Grants, scholarships, work-study, and other forms of gift aid just do not cover the full cost of a college education. Basically, loans fill in the gap. Becham says the loans and grants she received have allowed her to attend a college she couldn’t afford.

Talk to people who can help you understand college financial aid. How did they finance their college education? If you are confused, talk to your teachers and ask them what to do.

• If you need answers right away to questions about financial aid, call the Federal Student Aid Information Center’s toll-free number Monday-Friday, 6:00 a.m. – 6 p.m. (800) 4-FED-AID or (800) 433-3243. If you’re hearing-impaired, dial (800) 730-8913.

• Pick up your copy of the FAFSA at your college counselor’s office, or your nearest public library. For more information about FAFSA, visit the Web site

• For more information about Cal Grants, contact the California Student Aid Commission, P.O. Box 510845, Sacramento, CA 90245-0845, call (916) 445-0880, or visit the Web site

• Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA): When your FAFSA is processed, a formula is applied to the information you provided to determine your eligibility for financial aid. The formula takes into account your family’s income, assets, and expenses. The formula result is the Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which indicates how much money you and your family are expected to contribute toward your cost of attendance for the school year. Cost of attendance is the sum of your actual tuition fees, the cost of room and board, the cost of books and supplies, the allowance for transportation, and an allowance of miscellaneous expenses. If your EFC is below a certain amount, you’ll be eligible for some form of aid.

• Scholarships: A form of financial aid that does not have to be repaid.

• Loan: A form of financial aid that must be repaid, plus interest—an increase of what is owed. Play the Financial Aid Game to find out about the different kinds of loans you could be offered by your college.

• Work-Study: You earn money that is paid by your college that goes directly to your school fees. Play the Financial Aid Game to find out how it’s different than having a regular job.