The quick answer is: Free help
is available, whether you're looking for sources of student aid
or completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid
(FAFSA). If there's a fee involved, be sure you know what
you're paying for.
The following sources usually have information about
aid from the federal government and your state government; most
can tell you about funds from your local community and private sources
- A college or career school financial aid
office. Talk to the financial aid administrator at the school
you plan to attend. Be sure to ask about "institutional aid" -
money the school itself awards students. The school's catalog
or web site is also a good source of information about aid available
at the school.
- A local or college library. Relevant
materials are usually listed under "student aid" or "financial
aid." If you need help, ask the reference librarian.
- The Internet.Search using the key
words "student aid" or "financial aid." Remember that many scams
operate over the Internet, so if an Internet service charges a
fee, research it carefully. Better yet, use one of the many free
Internet search services or aid information sites.
- A high school counselor's office. Many counselors
have a large selection of materials, know what recent graduates
have received, and can guide you to free online information.
The major source of student financial aid is the U.S.
Department of Education. About 70% of the student aid that is awarded
each year comes from the U.S. Department of Education's programs
(approximately $61 billion in 2000-2001). The Department's aid includes
grants, loans, and work-study.
Free materials available in the financial aid office
at your college or career school or the guidance office at your
high school include the FAFSA as well as The Student Guide
and Funding Your Education
(two booklets that provide detailed information about the U.S. Department
of Education's programs). You also may request copies of the FAFSA
or either of the two booklets by calling the Federal Student Aid
Information Center (FSAIC) toll free at the number shown below.
The FSAIC's operators can answer your questions about federal student
aid and the application process.
Most federal student aid is awarded based on financial
need rather than scholastic achievement. For instance, most grants
are targeted to low-income students. However, you do not have to
show financial need to receive certain federal student loans.
You may apply for federal student aid at no cost by
filing a paper FAFSA or applying electronically with FAFSA on
the Web, the online application for federal student aid. All
you need for FAFSA on the Web is a computer that supports
a Department-approved browser. FAFSA on the Web is at www.fafsa.ed.gov/.
Who Offers Free Help Completing My FAFSA?
Some private companies charge a fee to help you complete
the FAFSA. You can get free help from the FSAIC. You can also get
free help from the financial aid administrator at your college,
from FAFSA on the Web's online help, or from a U.S.
Department of Education online guide called Completing the FAFSA
You may visit the Department of Education's federal
student aid web site to view Department publications online or to
learn more about the Department's programs: http://www.studentaid.ed.gov/
What About Aid from Other Government Agencies?
Student aid is also available from other federal agencies,
such as the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and the
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. For links to such information,
Contact your state education agency (usually located
in the capital of your state). Call the FSAIC or visit the web site
listed below to get the telephone number for your state agency;
this site also has links to state agencies' web sites: www.ed.gov/Programs/bastmp/SHEA.htm
Student aid may also be available from foundations,
community organizations, and organizations related to your field of
interest (for example, the American Medical Association or American
Bar Association). Contact the organizations directly for detailed
information. Check with your parents' employers to see whether they
award scholarships or have tuition payment plans. Although funds from
these sources make up a small percentage of the total aid awarded
each year, it's worth doing the research - you never know what you
- the financial aid office at your college or career
- a high school counselor
- the U.S. Department of Education
- other federal agencies (including the military,
- your state education agency
- the reference section of your school or public
- the Internet
- foundations, religious organizations, community
organizations, local businesses, and civic groups
- organizations (including professional associations)
related to your field of interest
- ethnicity-based organizations
- your employer or your parents' employers
- free scholarship search services
Check with all of these sources before considering
paying for a scholarship search or other financial aid service.
A number of privately operated scholarship search
services charge fees that can range from $50 to well over $500.
It is important to understand what information scholarship search
services can provide. Some can be helpful in identifying sources
of aid for students who meet certain criteria, such as academic
achievement, religious affiliation, ethnic or racial heritage, artistic
talents, athletic ability, career plans, or proposed field of study.
However, bear in mind that funds from these sources are usually
limited and not all applicants will receive awards.
Listed below are some of the services you might reasonably
expect from a private scholarship search service.
- Most scholarship search services provide
a list of sources of financial assistance you may apply for. After
studying the list, you then send a separate application to each
source that interests you. The scholarship search service does
not apply on your behalf or pay any additional application fees
that may be required.
- Many search services offer to refund your
fee if you do not receive any award. However, some services require
you to provide a rejection letter from every source on the list
to claim your refund. You should be aware that many scholarship
sources do not routinely send rejection letters. Make sure you
get the scholarship search service's refund policy in writing
before paying any money.
What Are Some Questionable Tactics I Should Watch
- Some services will tell you that millions
of dollars in student aid go unclaimed every year. The large
figures you may hear or read about usually represent an estimated
national total of employee benefits or member benefits. Usually,
such benefits are available only to the employees (and their families)
of a specific company, or to the members of a specific union or
- Some claim that you can't get the same
information anywhere else. Many services make you pay to get
information you could have received for free from a college financial
aid office, state education agency, local library, the U.S. Department
of Education, or the Internet. Remember that you can find out
about student aid without paying a fee to a search service.
- Others request your credit card or bank
account number to hold student financial aid for you. Search
services do not, in most cases, provide any awards directly to
applicants, apply on behalf of applicants, or act as a disbursing
agent for financial aid providers. You should never give out a
credit card or bank account number unless you know the company
or organization you are giving it to is legitimate.
- Others try to get you to send them money
by claiming that you are a finalist in a scholarship contest.
Most sources of financial aid have application deadlines and eligibility
criteria; they do not, generally, operate like a sweepstakes.
- Scholarship seminars frequently end with
one-on-one meetings in which a salesperson pressures the student
to "buy now or lose out on this opportunity." Legitimate services
don't use such pressure tactics.
Each year, the U.S. Department of Education receives
numerous complaints from students and parents who did not receive
the information they expected from a search service. The Department
does not evaluate private scholarship search services. If you decide
to use one of these services, you should check its reputation by
contacting the Better Business Bureau (http://www.bbb.com/), a school guidance
counselor, or a state attorney general's office. Additionally, investigate
the organization yourself before making a commitment:
- Ask for names of three or four local families
who have used its services recently.
- Ask how many students have used the service
and how many of them received scholarships as a result.
- Find out about the service's refund policy.
- Get everything in writing.
- Read all the fine print before signing anything.
The Scholarship Fraud Prevention Act created a fraud-awareness
partnership between the U.S. Department of Education and the Federal
Trade Commission (FTC). For more information about scholarship scams
or to report a scam, call the FTC toll free at 877-FTC-HELP (877-382-4357)
or go to http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/edcams/scholarship/
Most of the information private scholarship search
services provide can be obtained for free elsewhere. Before you
pay any company or organization to find student financial aid for
you, make sure you know what you're getting for your money. Searching
for student aid on your own can prevent you from wasting your money.
You just need to know where to look.