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8 College Scholarship Myths

Don't let these myths get in the way of finding financial aid


College Admissions
Photo courtesy of Vinícius Sgarbe, Stock.Xchng

Finding college financial aid is difficult enough without getting sidetracked by scholarship myths.

  1. MYTH: Middle class families don’t qualify for financial aid. The reality is that while middle class families may not qualify for federal or state grants, they still qualify for federal student loans and non-needs based college scholarships. Don't let your family's income stand in the way of applying via the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.


  2. MYTH: Setting up a college fund in your child's name is the best way to save for college. While savings of any kind are an excellent idea, saving the money in your child's name will count against him on the FAFSA. When the federal government figures out your Estimated Family Contribution, it includes a significantly larger percentage of your child's savings than yours. Save money in your name and ask generous grandparents to wait to donate.


  3. MYTH: Only athletic and academic geniuses get scholarships. Actually, there are scholarships in all sorts of niche areas, including music, dance and visual arts, community service and specific majors. In fact, sports is not a slam dunk, so to speak, when it comes to college scholarships. According to the NCAA, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, just 2% of the nation's teen athletes get a scholarship to college.


  4. MYTH: Colleges expect you to pay FAFSA's Estimated Family Contribution. Colleges use the EFC figure to determine your financial need, but your child may be eligible for student loans and scholarships even if he doesn't qualify for needs-based help. FAFSA is a financial data clearinghouse. The actual financial aid package offer comes directly from the college.


  5. MYTH: The college financial aid package is it. There are plenty of scholarships out there that hail from other sources - Coca Cola Foundation, Bank of America and other corporate scholarships, local awards from organizations such as Rotary and Soroptimist Clubs, etc. In addition to the FAFSA and college financial aid applications, encourage your child to check with his school counselor and do some online research into other scholarship possibilities. These will require some work - essays and recommendation letters - but the payoff can make a big difference.


  6. MYTH: Small scholarships may not be worth the effort. While it’s true that penning yet another essay or filling out another application is tedious, the results add up, even when the individual awards are under $1,000. And when you’re forking over $120 per textbook, even those “small” scholarships suddenly look very good indeed.


  7. MYTH: Paying a scholarship agency saves time or makes sense. No reputable scholarship agency charges a fee. Beware of any scholarship service that wants a credit card number to "hold the award," charges a finder's fee, tells you your child won a scholarship contest to which he never applied, or feeds you lines such as "You can't find this information anywhere else" or "Millions of dollars in scholarships go unclaimed." Instead, rely on reputable sources, such as your child's counselor or  FastWeb.com.


  8. MYTH: You only search for scholarships senior year. First, it's smart to start thinking about scholarships early so your family is familiar with the types of scholarships and requirements before it's time to apply. And second, it's not just senior year. You must resubmit your family's FAFSA application every year to qualify for another year of student loans, scholarships or other aid. Fortunately, FAFSA saves your basic information, so you'll only have to update the financial details, not the personal data forms. Check the details of any other scholarships to see if they can be renewed or if they're for one year only.

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