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Seven Ways to Begin Your Search for Student Financial Aid

Finding student financial aid is a top priority if you have a child planning on furthering their education. If you have your heart set on helping to provide a college education for your child, financial planning for college students should begin while the child is still young. However, even with the best of intentions, incomes fall, emergencies arise, and the best laid plans turn to dust.If this is the case, don't give up on the dream of a college education. However, don't hide your head in the sand and hope that everything will take care of itself. IT WON"T! Start where you are now to begin searching for student financial aid and start financial planning for college.Sit down with your child for a family conferencePut all your cards on the table. Reveal as much about the family finances as you feel is necessary. Fill them in on any college funds or college savings plans you may have available for them. Let the child know if he/she is expected to help pick up the cost of a college education. Let them know of any conditions you have when helping out financially, such as being willing to pay half as long as they maintain a certain grade point average. Always remember that it is not the parents' responsibility to provide a college education. It does not make you a bad parent if this is not an option for you.Investigate to possibilities for receiving need-based federal aid. Fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form used in applying for federal aid. Apply for financial aid as early as possible. In the financial aid treasure hunt, the rewards really do go to the fastest. First come, first served, could be the motto of the financial aid community. If your student is not yet in twelfth grade, you won't actually get any money, but it will give you an idea of what you will be expected to contribute to help pay for college and you will become familiar with filling out the federal aid form.Start researching for merit scholarshipsLook for schools where your child would rank high in the applicant pool. There are many public or smaller schools where your child would have a good chance of receiving merit scholarships. The most comprehensive scholarship search engine on the Internet is FastWeb. This is an excellent place to start your research. Also look into local and regional scholarships that may be available in your area. Don't overlook company scholarships that may be offered by the company you work for.Contact schools you are interested in attendingAs soon as you apply for admission, write to their financial aid office to explore the financial aid possibilities. Applying for financial aid will not affect your chances of getting accepted.Become Familiar with the Financial Aid DirectorsGet to know the financial aid directors at the colleges where you have applied. Remember thier names and take good notes of your conversations. Their help will be invaluable as you navigate the financial aid paths at their institutions.Research the Internet for College GrantsGrants are awarded funds that do not have to be repaid. There is a lot of competitiion for grants, but don't let that fact stop you from applying. You never know what might be available to you. There is no central location that lists the many grants available in this country.A good place to start your research is with the "Foundation Directory". This is an annual reference source for information about private and community grant foundations in the United States. Check the Foundation Center's Web Site for current fiscal data for the nation's largest foundations and grants available. You can also call 1-800-478-4661 for a free catalog.Look for affordable colleges and universitiesFiske Guides are published annually. These guides provide up to date information for the upcoming school year. Look for the "Fiske Guide to Colleges". This lists the nation's best bargins in colleges and universities. Another excellent resource is the "Fiske Guide to Getting Into the Right College". Both of these books will pay for themselves many times over.As you can see, there are many ways of moving along with financial planning for college students. At least get the process started. Start where you are now and develop realistic expectations. Although the parents may set financial limits, the final choice of a college should be up to the student. Do some advance planning and give your child a good head start by helping him/her start planning for college.

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