When I was applying for colleges for my undergraduate degree, a scholarship agent came to our house. I think he was referred to us by a friend of mine, and even then I wondered whether this was the time of arrangement where someone gets a referral bonus. The scholarship agent entered our house with a several fairly large binders, supposedly containing information about thousands of scholarships, and I could be a match for many of these. The agent asked about my interests and activities and turned to the appropriate pages in the binders.
I may be somewhat fuzzy with this memory; my parents were handling the financial considerations of my college experience. I believe this consultation cost somewhere around $200, and I don’t think there was anything gained from the meeting. The scholarship agent couldn’t complain, though. By showing up with his binders and meeting with my parents for a couple of hours, he was a few hundred dollars richer.
This was a year or two before “The Web” would become accessible to those with Mosaic and an internet account. This was several more years before a wealth of information about scholarships could be found online. The dissemination of scholarship information was apparently accomplished through traveling agents, moving from referral to referral. Besides a scholarship from the local university where my mother worked, most of my education was funded by loans, either taken by me or by my parents.
Here are three tips from SmartMoney for scoring more financial aid.
Plan ahead. College-planning specialists have grown to more than 1,200 in number since the National Institute of Certified College Planners was founded, in 2002. They offer ways to boost aid eligibility (deferring income, for example) and take advantage of tax benefits. NICCP.com has a list of specialists; check with the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards to ensure they’re also certified financial planners.
Was the agent who came to our door a “Certified College Planning Specialist?” At the time, I wasn’t paying attention to the details, so I don’t know. I’d be willing to bet that such a designation didn’t exist at that time. The CCPS is a type of financial adviser that focuses on planning for college. If you already have a financial adviser, would it be worthwhile to hire a specialist?
Dig for scholarships. By last count there was over $3 billion in private aid available, with $100 million going unused annually. David Rye, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Financial Aid for College, says people don’t realize it’s there. Employers and churches can be sources of scholarships, and you can search on sites like Petersons.com.
My memory, which often resembles swiss cheese, is hinting at a scholarship a friend from college received. I seem to remember that she received funds every year from the Daughters of the American Revolution even though she had no genealogical ties to the organization.
Follow up. If the school’s aid offer is insufficient, The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators recommends writing a letter, especially if there are recent changes in the family finances. If the need is real, says NASFAA’s Justin Draeger, they won’t “turn their backs on you.” Be sure to provide evidence, such as tax returns, to support your claims.
It can’t hurt to ask for more, especially if you can prove a financial need. It also doesn’t hurt to have schools compete over you. If there are two schools on equal footing, and one offers more financial aid, don’t hesitate to let the other school know. Perhaps they can match the offer.
If I have children, I’ll be going through this process again, only I plan to be more involved. Costs for college and private school are advancing much faster than anything else other than health care, and competition for scholarships can only get tougher.
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Score More Financial Aid [SmartMoney]
Updated February 6, 2012 and originally published March 11, 2008.