What's the Difference Between Financial Aid & Scholarships?
Welcome back to the Send Your Kids to College Blog! We use this blog as a tool to help serve WNY families and students with tips and information to help them plan for college. We work with individuals all over WNY to help navigate the college planning process. Don't forget, students graduating in 2024, 2025, and 2026 can apply to win 1 of 3 $1,000 scholarships if they apply by June 30th! Today on the blog, we wanted to break down a few key differences between "financial aid" and "scholarships." These two terms are often thrown around and are commonly mistaken for meaning the same thing, so let's see how they differ.
To put it simply, scholarships are distributed or won by students and don't need to be paid back. Financial aid on the other hand varies, whereas some of the money may not need to be paid back, but other aspects will need to be paid back after graduation.
Let's take a deeper dive...
How do you qualify for scholarships?
Many scholarships have no specifications or qualifications to apply, but some scholarships have rigid qualifications. A high GPA is great for any scholarship application. It's best to read and understand all qualification information so you don't waste your time applying only to find out that you don't qualify. It's recommended however to not be shy about how many you apply for. As long as you qualify, apply! The more scholarships you apply for, the better chance you have of winning one and cutting your college bill down.
Scholarship committees want to reward students who are motivated and hard-working. Participate in a variety of activities and community projects to separate yourself from your competition!
When to apply for scholarships
The earliest someone can apply for a college scholarship is your freshman year of high school. It's recommended to start applying your freshman year. Don't stop applying! You can even apply for scholarships through your last year of school, whether that's your last year of college or your last year of graduate school.
How do you qualify for financial aid?
Every individual will vary based on a few factors. Everyone qualifies for financial aid, but your family's financial circumstances will be gathered in the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, otherwise known as FAFSA. Based on your family's finances, a formula will determine your EFC or Expected Family Contribution.
Once you have your EFC, colleges are notified and will design a financial aid package to help meet your needs. You will receive this information in the spring, and be able to cross-reference the details between your varying college choices. Some colleges will also require a supplemental form that asks more questions to give room for families to elaborate on financial circumstances.
Don't neglect filling out these forms as that could lead to less financial aid dollars.
What types of financial aid are there?
Student loans ARE considered financial aid, BUT that could be debated as these forms of aid will need to be paid back. Student loans provide a low-interest rate financing option. Grants are free money that can be used to pay for college. Students may qualify for grants, but these forms of aid are distributed based on the basis of financial need and not based on merit. Grants can come through federal and state governments, as well as from a college.
Another form of financial aid is what is known as "work study." This allows students to work a part-time job that directly covers college-related expenses. The Department of Education is currently opening these programs up to off-campus jobs, but traditionally the job market is limited to jobs on campus.
When to apply for financial aid
We recommend completing your FAFSA forms as soon after the October 1 open date as possible. Most states award financial aid on a first-come, first-serve basis. The earlier you get your FAFSA in, the more likely you are to get the financial aid you need. If any supplemental forms are required, those too should be completed ASAP, in order to get yourself in front of the line.
Though scholarships and financial aid are a bit different, they both help pay for college. It's important to understand these things as parents, in order to be able to help kids make sound decisions. Many parents wait too long to have "The College Money Talk," which causes families to become regretful and disappointed when graduation ends and the first bill shows up.
Don't miss out on any opportunity to help pay for college with the help of Send Your Kids to College! If you have any questions or need help with planning for college, don't hesitate to give us a call or reach out via our contact form for more info.