Let’s be honest about something: financial aid is tricky, confusing and overwhelming. As is with all things complicated, it’s easy to see why students and parents alike believe everything they’re told about the process. Unfortunately, that means students are told a lot of “falsehoods.” One of the best things students and parents can do for their financial aid chances is to know how the facts stand up against the myths.
Myth #1: I won’t qualify for aid.
This is perhaps the biggest and most believed myth about financial aid. While there are individuals with income thresholds that won’t receive financial aid
, it’s imperative that these families still fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Firstly, every single student, regardless of their parents’ income, qualifies for unsubsidized Stafford and PLUS loans just by filling out the FAFSA.
Second, aid dollars can never be predicted; and with that, students and their parents may as well fill out an application to see if they qualify for aid. Finally, you never know when your family’s financial circumstances will change. Loss of job or divorce can take a toll on income and assets. Wouldn’t it be nice if your financial aid office had your FAFSA on hand to see how they could help you pay for college?
Myth #2: I can declare myself as an independent student.
You may be living on your own without any financial support, but does that make you an independent student
by financial aid standards? Hardly. The federal government has a very strict definition of what makes a student independent: he or she must be older than 24, married, serving in the armed forces or financially responsible for a dependent.
Unfortunately, the federal government dictates that if a student is less than 24, his or her parents are responsible for paying for their education – whether or not your parents actually can is another matter.
Myth #3: I didn’t qualify for aid the first time, so I won’t qualify again.
Just as circumstances change, so does financial aid. As stated earlier, a job loss or divorce can have an impact on whether or not a student is determined eligible for aid. And in most cases, this new state of eligibility is determined through less drastic circumstances. For instance, if a family has two students enrolled in college at the same time, both of those students may then be eligible for financial aid. With that in mind, students and their families should apply for financial aid with the FAFSA every day.
Myth #4: I shouldn’t accept a financial aid package with any self-help.
Many families hear “student loans” and automatically reject the financial aid package – as well as the school. The truth is that student loans have the lowest interest rates of any type of loan, and while you hear horror stories of students graduating with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, that’s not necessarily the reality.
Financial aid experts will instruct borrowers not to acquire an amount of student debt that is more than their expected starting salary after graduation. Also, borrowers should attempt to pay the interest while they’re in school, which will save hundreds if not thousands of dollars after graduation. The trick to tackling a financial aid package with student loans is to borrow smartly.
Also, keep in mind that self-help comes in the form of work study jobs
too. These on-campus work opportunities enable students to work to pay down their tuition bill during school, making the task of paying off any debt after school a lot simpler.
Myth #5: I can’t appeal my financial aid package.
When you get your very official looking financial aid package, it may seem as if there is no compromise or ability to appeal. Fortunately, that’s not true either. While you can’t make changes to the FAFSA at that point, financial aid officers are always willing to work with students and their parents to make paying for their dream school possible.
Oftentimes, financial aid officers can find ways to add to the financial aid package. Plus, a little known secret to the outside world is what is referred to by professionals in the space as “summer melt
.” As students decide during the summer months that they really don’t want to go to a particular college – or to college at all – their financial aid at that school becomes available. Some families are able to benefit from this sudden allowance of financial aid if they contact the school and ask about any further available financial aid opportunities in July.
Yes, applying for financial aid can be baffling, but that doesn’t mean you should fall for the myths that we so often hear. If you do, your ability to pay for the school you really want to attend could be in jeopardy. So before you make any hard decisions, make sure you’re working with the truth about financial aid and paying for school.