Negotiating college financial aid takes perseverance

College expenses are staggering and going up. Financial aid in the form of scholarships, which are usually merit based, and grants, which are usually needs based, are free money for college that, unlike loans, don’t have to be paid back. The application process should start no later than the student’s junior year in high school. If you missed that window, there may still be some scholarships available.

The student must complete a Federal Application for Student Aid, which becomes available each January at www.fafsa .gov. Most scholarships, grants and other forms of financial aid use the same federal application as a reference, so it’s important that it is filled out every year the student seeks financial aid. The website is its own best source for how to fill out the form and a great way to understand the financial aid process.

In your scholarship search, get creative. Academic performance is not the only factor that may be included in a merit-based scholarship. It may include athletic ability, a specific trait or unusual ability or that the student is the offspring of a parent who works for a particular company.

Are you female? There are scholarships available only to women. Are you Native American? There are scholarships exclusively for you. Italian? Daughters of the Revolution? Are you Catholic, Jewish, Presbyterian? Do you live in California, Maine or Nevada? Scholarships and grants are available through ethnic, religious, labor and many other organizations. A good place to start your search would be After that simply put in your particular demographic with the word “scholarship,” and you’re on your way.

There are some roadblocks to watch out for in your financial aid search. When applying for any type of financial aid apply the “Read the flippin’ directions” rule, and follow them precisely. Fill out the application completely, leaving no spaces unfilled. If the answer is “none,” write “none” or put a zero in the blank. And be sure to meet the deadline.

Four examples of federal grants are the federal Pell Grant, the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education grant, and the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant. Each has specific attributes and requirements.

Pell Grants are primarily for undergraduate students and are based on need. The maximum award was $5,550 for the 2012- 13 school year. The amount awarded depends on the student’s financial need, cost of attendance, status as a full-time or part-time student, and plans to attend school for a full academic year or less.

The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant is for undergraduate students with exceptional financial need. The student must have filled out a Federal Application for Student Aid to be considered for both grants. Students who will receive a Pell Grant and have exceptional need will receive a supplemental grant first. The award is $1,000 to $4,000 depending on need. Not all schools participate with this grant.

The Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education grant is an award of up to $4,000 per year for students who are completing or plan to complete course work needed to begin a career in teaching. As a condition for this grant, the student must sign a contract agreeing to teach in a high need field, in a low-income area, for at least four complete academic years after completing the degree. If the required service is not completed, the grant money must be repaid.

If your parent or guardian died as a result of military service in Iraq or Afghanistan, you may qualify for the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant. To qualify , you also must have been under age 24 and enrolled in college at least part time at the time of your parent’s death. The award is equal to the Pell Grant but cannot exceed your cost of attendance.

Managing financial aid, particularly student loans, is where most students get into trouble. These tips are from

n Fill out a Federal Application for Student Aid every year as early as possible.

n Don’t discount the value of a less-expensive education. Many community colleges are listed in U.S. News & World Report’s Best College Rankings. And if you plan to make more money by graduating from a name-brand university but you’re paying a large chunk in student loans every month, that doesn’t make good financial sense.

n Don’t get private loans until you’ve exhausted all your options for federal loans and grants. Private loans can have higher interest rates or the rates can be variable, which means they can go up. Federal loans allow for consideration of your financial situation as you repay, even allowing for temporary deferment if you need it.

n Avoid having a parent co-sign for student loans unless he or she is prepared to pay them.

n Do the math. Figure out what your loan payments will look like after you graduate. Will they be too high for you to maintain the standard of living you want? What if you have to take a different job?

n Keep all of your documents. Keep copies of your application, any loans or scholarships you get .

n Don’t use student loan money to live on. This is money you’re being charged interest for. It’s too expensive to be used for a pizza night.

n Pay unsubsidized loans as soon as possible — while you’re still in school if you can. These loans are building interest while you’re in school, so paying them off early will save money.

When searching for grants and scholarships, don’t pay for the information you need or give out personal information that can be sold to an organization’s “marketing partners.” Many websites offer services free of such catches. At there is no login or registration required and the information is free.

Work with your high school college counselor, the college financial aid counselor, the Labor Department ’s free college search at and online help at

Many larger companies, such as the big casino companies in Las Vegas, give back to the communities that support them by providing scholarships. Finding scholarships is as easy as typing the name of the corporation and the word scholarship into an Internet search.

For example, the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation awards 50 four-year scholarships of $20,000 each and 200 four-year scholarships of $10,000 each per year. Students with a minimum 3.0 GPA are recognized for their ability to lead and serve . The foundation continues its support of two-year colleges through the Coca-Cola Community College Academic Team Program by providing up to $237,500 in stipends. This scholarship is administered by Phi Theta Kappa, and application details can be found on the website

Target Corp. awards its All-Around Scholarship to 2,100 college-bound young adults under the age of 24 every year. A recipient must be a high school graduate who is enrolled or about to enroll in an undergraduate program at a college or university. The minimum GPA is 3.0 and the scholarships are designed to benefit students who demonstrate a high level of academic achievement and a devotion to community service. See

The PepsiCo ExCEL Scholarship encourages and supports the college ambitions of the children of the employees of PepsiCo and its subsidiaries. No limitations are placed on which college or university the student attends other than accreditation. There are many other PepsiCo scholarships specific to a particular college at

The Public Education Foundation, in connection with school districts, offers a listing of many scholarships available to students, including some for students who have attended particular schools. It is available at

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