Back to school: Financial aid basics

5:59 PM, Sep 5, 2012   |    comments
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MINNEAPOLIS - Kendric Voss, a busy college freshman, is busy trying to figure out his way around the University of Minnesota, but getting on campus wasn't easy as a first generation college student.

"I really didn't know what to expect there's FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), there's financial aid, there's scholarships and picking the right school for you," Voss said.

Voss ultimately chose the U of M because he wanted a big university with big opportunities, but the big price tag was a concern.

"For me family income wasn't too much of an option because my parents just didn't have that much," he said.

Roughly 20 percent of families who are eligible for financial aid don't even apply, according to Kris Wright, director of the U's Office of Student Finance.

"A lot of families are not comfortable talking about money," she said.

Talking about finances could help save families thousands on college. The process can look very intimidating, but Wright said if parents and students break it down into smaller steps it can be very manageable.

Students can do their part by preparing for financial aid as early as their freshman year in high school.

"They can start to collect their grades and what awards they've received and what kind of community action they've been involved in and keep track of all that," Wright said.

Students should do this up to their senior year when they can apply for aid. As for parents they should be collecting as much financial information as possible.

"You need information on tax returns for the prior year, asset information, so if there are checking accounts, savings accounts those things, perhaps some mortgage information, retirement account information," Wright advised.

There are scams out there that ask you to pay for help to find scholarships. Wright said no one should have to pay for financial aid. There are plenty of free resources including the following:

Voss said his didn't really keep track of financial information or school awards because he didn't know he had to. It wasn't until he joined College Possible, a nonprofit that helps prepare low income students for college, that he was put on the right path.

"I had to apply to scholarships and I had to make sure I was filling out the FAFSA to the best of my ability," Voss said.

Voss was awarded one scholarship, a few grants and took out loans to pay for school.
He's keeping an eye out for more money.

"Definitely apply to more scholarships, as many as possible," Voss said.

(Copyright 2012 by KARE. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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