One of the perks of working with the National Hispanic Institute is that I get to travel across the region and interact with our community’s bright young minds. Year after year, however, it shocks me that many of our youth have not even heard of the most basic components of the financial aid process.
While it is true that young Latino students are affected by poverty at an alarming rate in this country, I hate to see our brightest minds limit their higher education goals, particularly because of a basic unfamiliarity with the financial aid process. So a few of us formed the Northern Colorado Latino Leadership Initiative, and took it upon ourselves to make the process more accessible to young Latinos. I want to share the relevant information with you in five simplified steps.
Compare Schools: Start this process in your Junior year. No list of potential schools is too big, and it should range from your “dream school” to your “safety schools.” Also, you should pay attention to the difference between each school’s estimated vs. actual costs. Every school will present you with an estimated budget for their yearly cost of attendance.
However, within this total budget, you will find estimated costs for things like transportation, books, meals, etc. The actual cost of these items will vary from student to student. The tuition and fees are the non-negotiable costs. Keep this in mind when you assess a school’s overall estimated cost of attendance, since some schools tend to overestimate/underestimate certain items (which ultimately will affect the amount of aid you are offered).
Apply for Scholarships: You should do this between August and November of your Senior Year. Keep in mind that each school has their own institutional-based scholarships that are major/college specific. Additionally, you should apply for as many private scholarships you are eligible for, and research such organizations as the Gates Millennium Scholars and the Hispanic Scholarship Fund.
Fill out the FAFSA: This is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and this should ALWAYS be filled out as a part of your process (between January and February of your Senior year). Filling out this simple form will automatically make you eligible for a variety of federal grants, loans, and work study. The information you provide on this form will generate an Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which is the estimated amount that your family is reasonably expected to contribute to your education for the upcoming year. This EFC is compared to each school’s estimated cost of attendance to determine how much federal aid you receive per school.
Make an Informed Decision: Once you find out which schools have admitted you, those schools will then each send you their financial aid offer. Use this information, along with any other scholarships you have received, to make a wise, informed decision on which school to attend.
My hope is that following these simple steps will help our students choose the best paths for their futures.
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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of
the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.