Times have been tough during the last couple of years and money is tight for just about everyone. However, when it comes to paying for your education, there is hope, as long as you put the work in to take full advantage of the financial aid and scholarships that are out there.
“The first thing we always recommend is filing early,” said Matthew Casanova, the Deputy Director of the Office of Financial Aid Services at Queens College.
Casanova said that many students don’t maximize their eligibility because they file late and miss deadlines. Ronnie Lukas, the Director of Enrollment Management and Student Financial Service at Queensborough Community College, also said that it is important for students to apply early and be aware of the deadlines at their respective colleges.
Another important tip that Casanova has for students is to “make sure they build relationships,” not just with financial aid departments but with others across their campuses. These individuals can help keep families up to date about changes in policies and financial aid programs.
“Keeping in the loop is really important because things change constantly,” Casanova said.
In addition, Lukas said that students need to follow up with financial aid officers and make sure they have all of the documentation needed and respond to inquiries for more information in a timely manner.
“Many times students don’t respond or are unclear with what they have to do,” Lukas said.
Casanova also suggested that parents file even if they think that they are not eligible. For example, he said that some students lose out on scholarships because they are required to file Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), but they never fill out the forms.
Another advantage to having FAFSA on file, Casanova said, is that it can speed things up if a family’s financial situation changes at all.
Lukas reminds students to be sure they are using the right income information and tax returns and are completing everything thoroughly. And, if students have any questions, she said they need to be sure to ask.
Students should be aware of the resources available to them. Along with the financial aid office and the admissions office, Casanova recommended that students keep in touch with their department administrators and professors who might be aware of scholarships or grants available for those specific departments.
Of course, the Internet can also prove useful to students trying to find ways to help pay for college. Casanova and Lukas said one web site students can use is www.FastWeb.com, which matches students’ information to scholarships they are eligible for.
The web site states, “As a scholarship matching service, FastWeb matches users to scholarships based on their qualifications, meaning students have a better change of winning… We provide current news on financial aid, scholarships, college, jobs and internships and student life.”
At Queensborough Community College, Lukas said information is posted on the school’s web site to keep students informed about financial aid. She said that they reach out to students to let them know the importance of applying early, since it takes time to process applications.
Queens College also posts financial aid information, including links and resources, on its web site. The college has its Office of Honors and Scholarships to assist students.
Even though the economy has been shaky, Lukas said that assistance is still out there.
“It’s not a matter of availability. The financial aid is there,” Lukas said. “It’s just that a lot more students are qualifying because of the economy.”