High Achievers Can Earn Merit Aid
by Howard Freedman
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Howard can be reached at email@example.com
Even in terms of economic volatility, top colleges continue to seek and reward the brightest and most talented students to fill their classrooms and sustain their reputation and high standards. Financial aid is not just based on a family’s assets, ability to pay or need. It is also based on the student’s assets in the form of their intellect, academic, and other achievements. In turn, these assets are redeemable in the form of merit-based aid that can prove invaluable for making a great college education affordable.
To set the record straight, need-based financial aid is derived from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, College Scholarship Service Profile, and institutional specific financial aid forms. Financial need is then determined by applying what it costs to attend a college, less a family’s Expected Family Contribution derived from the financial aid forms. That is the amount on which colleges base their financial aid awards consisting of scholarships, loans, grants, work-study and so on. Though the EFC defines what a family should be able to pay, it does not recognize if the family actually has the money, their indebtedness, or likelihood that they will be approved for certain loans. Moreover, not all colleges can guaranty to satisfy 100 percent of a family’s need.
Keep score of your accomplishments as you build your resume. Talk to your guidance counselors, upperclassmen or look on the Web to learn about how much aid was awarded. One such site, www.collegeboard.com, provides this information when you compare colleges. Attend college fairs and visit colleges with your older siblings or when they are nearby to learn as much as you can early in the process. Get involved with extracurricular and community activities and networking with as many people as possible. Many scholarships and merit-based aid come from local organizations, small and large businesses, religious organizations, clubs, labor unions and so on.
Developing outstanding writing and research skills are a must for merit-based and other scholarships. Keep a journal about your academic achievements and challenges — these are excellent subjects for scholarship essays and college applications.
Be sure to talk to admissions officers about the types of merit-based aid that are offered by both the college and your specific major and the criteria for receiving them. This is an often overlooked if you do not realize that merit-based aid normally comes from the admissions office versus need-based aid which is determined in the financial aid office.
The U.S. Government and the Department of Education offer many programs for top achieving students. Here are some:
• Academic Competitiveness Grants offer up to $750 to eligible first-year students and up to $1,300 for second-year students. Students must complete a FAFSA and be eligible to receive a Pell Grant. They must also have completed a rigorous secondary school program of study as established by a state or local educational agency and recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education. Second-year students must have graduated from high school after Jan.1, 2005, and have had at least a cumulative 3.0 grade-point average during their first year of college. Further information can be found in http://www.ed.gov
• The U.S. Department of Education offers SMART grants (Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent) of Pell-eligible students enrolled in the third and fourth years of bachelor's degree programs and pursuing majors in mathematics, science, technology, engineering or a critical foreign language. To receive a SMART grant, students must complete a FAFSA and be eligible to receive a Pell Grant; be enrolled full time in their third or fourth academic year of a four-year degree program; maintain a 3.0-grade point average in college and be a U.S. citizen. Further information can be found in http://www.ed.gov
• TEACH grants (Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education) provides grants to students who intend to teach at least four years in a public or private elementary or secondary school in a high-need field that serves students from low-income families. High need fields include reading, mathematics, science, special education, bilingual education and other areas at the time you begin teaching. Further information can be found in http://www.ed.gov.
Now you should realize that hard work does pay off, but it does not happen automatically. There is competition with others but your chances are as good as any as long as you apply. You have a lot going for you and deserve the best education that money can buy, especially by proving that your success in high school will yield invaluable rewards for your future.