Timeka Ruffin is a regional manager for the College Foundation of North Carolina, which provides information on planning, applying and paying for college. Ruffin oversees Lincoln County and other schools within the greater Charlotte area. Here are her 10 tips on applying for financial aid for college.
1. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application opens Oct. 1, and students planning to apply to a two- or four-year college should fill out the application. When you submit the application, you’re applying for funds from the federal government, state funds and funds through whatever institution you’re applying to.
2. When you fill it out, set aside about half an hour and have tax documents ready. You’ll need to have your Social Security number and tax documents from the year prior. Students who plan to attend college in fall 2019 will need 2017 tax information. If you receive any sort of public assistance, have that documentation ready as well.
3. Students with divorced parents should use the financial information of the parent who provides more than the 50 percent of financial support, which is usually the parent the student lives with predominantly. If custody is split 50/50, the student can choose whose information to use.
4. When it comes to financial aid, never be ashamed of a lower income because in these situations, it will benefit you – you have a better chance of qualifying for need-based assistance. It’s best to be honest because it will benefit you.
5. In addition to the FAFSA, check out what the colleges you’re applying to offer. Each school has options for students and will have information on receiving aid and paying for college. Check with your high school counselor – they have information, too. The top-three recommended sites are www.cfnc.org, www.collegeboard.org, and www.studentaid.ed.gov.
6. When you receive your financial aid package from your university, pay attention to the types of aid you’ve been awarded (grants, loans, scholarships and/or work study). Grants and scholarships don’t need to be paid back, loans do. Communicate with your financial aid office on when those need to be repaid and how much debt you could accrue from interest.
7. Only apply for what you need, especially for loans. Make sure your tuition, books and fees are covered as well as room and board. Anything excess, you have the option to decline the portion you don’t need or pay it back right away.
8. Work in college if you are able to. If you qualify for a work study, considering accepting it. It’s like a flexible part-time job through the school.
9. Work in college if you are able to. If you qualify for a work study, considering accepting it. It’s like a flexible part-time job through the school. You can use the money for school costs like books, extracurriculars or start paying back loans.
10. For students in Lincoln County Schools, there will be a CFNC-sponsored event on Oct. 30 at the James W. Warren Citizens Center, 115 W. Main St. in Lincolnton. The event starts at 6:30 p.m. and is a workshop on paying for college.