Hacking Financial Aid

May 22, 2009 at 4:09 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Before you even get to further your education, you have to ‘show them the MONEY’! Here’s a few tips and tricks on getting the most out of financial aid and scholarships:

The first thing you want to do is get as much information from your high school counselor or college financial aid office. Schedule a meeting with someone in those offices, and they will help you get the money you need. If you are attending Texas State Technical College Harlingen, I highly recommend Vanessa Puga.

Also, be sure to file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This will be the easiest way to get grants and loans that you are eligible for. Remember, money you DON’T have to pay back are in the form of grants, fellowships, and scholarships.

1. Scholarships – Over a million scholarships are awarded each year. There are scholarships based on athletic ability, academic merit, disability, race, nationality, religious affiliation, relation to a cancer victim, location, and more. With a little bit of research and patience, everyone should be able to find a pretty big list of eligible scholarships to apply for. A highly recommended site for scholarships is FastWeb.org. At FastWeb, you fill out an information application ONCE, and then the search engine will do the rest. Pretty soon you’ll be bombarded with scholarships that you are eligible for based on the information you provided. Just be sure to watch out for any scholarship scams. A good rule of thumb is, if you have to pay for the information, it is probably a scam.

2. Federal Pell Grant – A Pell Grant is a federal assistance grant that is awarded to students who have not already earned a bachelor’s degree. While most Pell Grants are awarded to students with family incomes below $20,000, most students with family incomes below $50,000 are eligible. Awards range from $400 to $4,050.

3. Academic Competitiveness Grant – The Academic Competitiveness Grant is available to all first-year college students who graduated high school after January 1, 2006 and all second-year college students who graduated high school after January 1, 2005. This grant provides up to $750 for the first year of college and up to $1,300 for the second year of college, provided the student is eligible for the Pell Grant, has successfully completed a rigorous high school program, and can maintain a 3.0 GPA.

4. National SMART Grant – The National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent (SMART) Grant is available for third- and fourth-year college students maintaining a 3.0 GPA who are eligible for the Pell Grant and who are majoring in physical science, life science, computer science, mathematics, technology, engineering, or in a foreign language deemed critical to national security. This grant awards up to $4,000 per year.

5. Institutional grants – Contact your college or university’s financial aid office to request information on any institutional grants that they may offer. These grants are typically merit-based and will help to cover the costs of education not covered by any federal assistance money.


Loans typically are not free money. In most cases they will need to be repaid within 10 years of graduating, unless you qualify for loan forgiveness.

6. Perkins Loan. A Perkins Loan is a campus-based loan that is provided from your school from a limited pool of federal government money. The interest rate is fixed at 5%. The amount you receive is determined by your school’s financial aid office. This loan is limited to $4,000 per year for undergraduate students, with a cumulative limit of $20,000. If your school participates in the Expanded Learning Option (ELO), the annual limit is raised by $1,000 and the cumulative limit is raised by $5,000.

7. Stafford Loan. A Stafford Loan is provided to you either through a private lender (Federal Family Education Loan Program, or FFELP) or directly to you from the U.S. government (Federal Direct Student Loan Program, or FDSLP). Stafford Loans are either subsidized, meaning the government pays the interest while you’re in school, or unsubsidized, in which you are responsible for paying the interest. Beginning July 1, 2007, dependents may borrow up to $3,500 for your freshman year, $4,500 for your sophomore year, and $5,500 for each remaining year. These loans have a fixed rate of 6.8% if first disbursed after July 1, 2006.

8. Federal Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students (PLUS). A PLUS Loan allows a student’s parents to borrow money to cover any costs not already covered by the student’s financial aid package. The interest rate on this type of loan is fixed at 8.5% for all loans first disbursed after July 1, 2006.

9. Private student loans. Beyond what you receive from the federal government, you can also request additional loan money from a private lender.

NOTE: Unlike other debts or loans, if you ever claim bankruptcy, you STILL have to pay your student loans. Keep that in mind!

Helpful Tips

Knowing where to find financial aid is just half the game. Following these helpful tips will help you maximize your aid package.

10. Ask for more. Your university’s financial aid office can be quite accommodating, especially when it comes to personal family needs. Don’t be afraid to schedule an appointment face-to-face with another person and ask for more money.

11. Keep up the good work. Financial aid often relies upon keeping up a certain courseload and GPA. Don’t get behind in your studies or slack off for a semester. It could cost you.

12. Meet all deadlines. Scholarship applications and the FAFSA have deadlines. Get a calendar and mark them down. You could be the most qualified student on the planet, but if you miss a deadline, it won’t matter.

College can get pricey, but the truth is that most students don’t take advantage of all options to pay for it! One last hint if you are living in South Texas. The STARS scholarship is for South Texas students only, BUT if you are attending TSTC Harlingen, you have a slight advantage. TSTC Harlingen has an agreement with STARS, for a certain number of alloted slots. This means, that instead of competing with students across South Texas, you are only competing with students from TSTC Harlingen! That narrows the group and increases your odds of getting awarded.




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