Personal Finance

Three Tips for More Financial Aid

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Last updated on July 22, 2019 Comments: 7

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. has a list of specialists; check with the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards to ensure they’re also certified financial planners.

Princeton University archesWas 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

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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Article comments

Anonymous says:

For me it’s pell-grants and Fast-Web. As well applying for every and any scholarship out there.

Anonymous says:

For my elder two girls, it was the Father and Mother scholarship, and it will end this April.

I did nothing in the way of searching for aid and have paid heavily for it.

My younger children are still some way off from college. But this time, I’ll be better prepared.


Anonymous says:

Wow. Thanks for sharing this, Flexo. I’m going to bookmark this one and send to my little sis.

Anonymous says:

Must be good news then that some top private schools like Brown and Stanford are waiving tuition fees for low-income students. If only it happened sooner for me…. :/

Anonymous says:

My sister got a $500 scholarship from a jewish women’s group (she was raised catholic). I seem to remember that she got quite a few small ones.

Anonymous says:

The most non-obvious scholarship I received was from Wal-Mart. I found out about it by plunking through one of those huge scholarship binders in the guidance counselor’s office (this was back in the 80’s). I had no association to the company, but for submitting the application and sitting through one interview with a small group of older women – who seemed to like that I worked at a children’s museum – I received $500 for 4 consecutive semesters.

So I was a little tiny speck of a write-off for Wal-Mart 20+ years ago. I still feel a bit guilty about that sometimes, since now I’m one of those who refuses to shop there.

Anonymous says:

And always always always, just ask for some. When I was in Graduate School at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, I went to the school’s main office one day literally thinking the end was near. My financial aid award (loan) had been paltry, I had burned through the meager savings I had, and I was getting to the end of my rope. I was hoping the office might have some leads on some part-time internships or what-have-you. I asked one the more tenure admins what I could do. She answered, “Don’t you have a need based scholarship?” I said no, and that I’d never even heard of that before – or that the school offered those. She said, “Here, let me cut you the voucher and you can go to the bursar’s office to pick it up.” Just for ASKING, I got myself $2500 to get through the semester. To this day I am still amazed at that turn of events. Here I thought my financial goose was cooked just because I hadn’t asked around enough.
There’s money to be found in many strange areas and offices, you just have to poke around. I found out too late about the “Texas Exes” Scholarships when I was in undergrad. UT students could get full-ride scholarships – I had no idea that the alumni association gave out so much money. It was just stupidity on my part not to know that!