The sticker shock of college tuition can strike fear in the hearts of both parents and students. But with ample opportunities for financial aid and scholarships, that blow can turn into a blessing.
Recent changes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) have made the process of applying for grants and loans quicker and more accurate.
“There are some great changes for the 2017-18 FAFSA,” Jessica Petrie, the financial aid coordinator at Penn State York, said. “Because students are able to file the application much earlier than in the past, families will have more time to explore the student aid options that are available, including scholarships.”
The new prior-prior system, which lets applicants use tax information from two years ago, will ensure accuracy and faster results. The application is available to fill out as of Oct. 1, as opposed to waiting until Jan. 1 as in previous years. So, students will receive their financial aid offerings months earlier than with the old FAFSA.
“Students and parents should communicate with financial advisers at colleges,” Mrs. Pamela Scott, a Red Lion guidance counselor, said. “Communication is truly the key.”
Scholarships are also a powerful way to cope with the cost of college. Many scholarships go unused every year, since not enough students think to fill out the applications.
“If there is one thing I wish my students do more is apply for scholarships,” Mrs. Scott said. “It is free money. Even $500 will pay for books.”
Mrs. Scott recommended scholarship databases, like Raise.me and Fastweb.com, to find the best opportunities for all students. The guidance office also has a file cabinet stacked with various scholarships that is updated at least every two weeks.
Jason Keller, an admissions counselor at York College of Pennsylvania, stressed the importance of keeping track of deadlines and requirements.
“My biggest piece of advice to students applying to colleges and FAFSA currently is to educate yourself about the financial aid process for each school,” Keller said. “There are variations in the financial aid awarding process at each college, and it is important for students to know when to expect their financial aid package and how it was awarded.”