The Ultimate Guide to Paying for College: A Free Introduction to Financial Aid,


The Ultimate Guide to Paying for College:

A Free Introduction to Financial Aid, Scholarships, and Cutting Costs

by Alyssa Stenson

Copyright © 2016 by Alyssa Stenson

All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof
may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever
without the express written permission of the publisher
except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.


Table of Contents:

1. Introduction

2. What actually IS the FAFSA?

3. College Funding Sources

4. Introduction to College Scholarships and Grants

5. Creative Ways to Save Money

6. Conclusion

7. Preview of Book 2


Maybe you’re confused about this world of financial aid and FAFSA. Or maybe you think you have a pretty good understanding but you want to learn how you can maximize your financial aid package. Either way, you’re in the right place. In this book we’ll cover the FAFSA process, frequent points of confusion about financial aid, the difference between scholarships and grants, and much more. We’ll also introduce some concepts that we’ll expand upon in Book 2 of this series that will teach you a process for generating your own college financing package without mooching off parents or swimming in student loan debt. So without further ado, let’s start with a guide to the FAFSA.

GUIDE to FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid):

Right here is where I tell you the number one thing I want you to know after reading this e-book: FAFSA does not pay anybody any money. There. Let that sink in.

Just like the SAT or the Common App, FAFSA is merely a common form that asks you a standard set of questions and then forwards your answers to your school. So while the FAFSA is extremely important, the form itself does not grant you any money. Instead, think of FAFSA as the ticket you have to show the conductor in order to board the train (your school). Nobody should try to board the train without a ticket, so even if you think you won’t get any money from FAFSA, apply anyway.

You may be thinking “But what about Pell Grants and Direct Loans? Doesn’t the FAFSA give those out?” Great question, but FAFSA still doesn’t give anybody any money. The feds allocate Pell and other aid to the schools, which in turn dole it out to their students.

Based on your input, FAFSA outputs a Student Aid Report (SAR), which summarizes your input and determines an Expected Family Contribution (EFC). There is a lot of confusion about the EFC. The EFC is NOT 1) the amount of financial aid you’re getting, nor 2) an amount your family is legally bound to contribute. It’s just FAFSA’s way of telling your school, “based on this student’s answers, we think they can probably pay this much money in cash.” Here’s a helpful infographic to explain it better:

Source: Fafsa.ed.gov

Timeline: Since some schools offer aid on a first-come-first-served basis, you should submit your FAFSA form as soon after October 1st as possible. If you haven’t decided on a school yet that’s OK – FAFSA allows you to select multiple schools since it knows you may not be settled on one school yet. Schools will start to send out financial aid award letters (the piece of paper that summarizes all the money you’re getting) to incoming freshmen shortly after acceptance letters. Upperclassmen usually have to wait until summer to receive the coming year’s award letter.

What they allocate: Once your school’s Financial Aid Office sits down to craft your award package, they basically have two pots of money to pull from that they can allocate to you: 1) the federally-funded aid that we talked about above, and 2) the school’s own pool of scholarships and grants based off of endowments. “Endowments” is just a big word that means “donated money.”

How they allocate: Each school has their own process for determining how much aid to allocate, but they will primarily look at 1) your financial need and 2) how badly they want you as a student. When award letters go out, many students are still deciding on schools, so in addition to providing some financial-based aid to students, schools also try to put their best foot forward by offering some really stunning merit awards to their top accepted students. That’s why you may find your “safety school” has offered you much more money than other schools that have accepted you.

A common concern when students receive their award package is that the award package and the EFC don’t add up to the tuition price and there is a “gap” in the funding – that’s because the school is not required to meet full financial need. There are universities out there that pride themselves on meeting each student’s “full financial need,” meaning they will work with you to make sure you have enough money for school. However, these schools tend to be very competitive! Here is where other college funding sources become important, which we’ll talk about in the next chapter.

A note about scams: There are tons of businesses out there that offer to complete the FAFSA for you for a “small” fee, and promise tips and tricks to get your EFC lower. So here is the second most important thing I want you to take away from this e-book: don’t fall for them. At the end of the day, the FAFSA is no more complicated than filing taxes. If you or your parents are having trouble, ask a trusted coach, teacher, or mentor for help.


So now you know the first step in paying for college: Completing the FAFSA. You also know that the FAFSA doesn’t pay you any money, and you shouldn’t pay money to anyone to complete the FAFSA for you. So now let’s talk funding sources.

The following is broken down by the types of funding sources that are out there, and where you will find them. You’ll find funding for college in three places:

p<>{color:#000;}. Your college acceptance letter

p<>{color:#000;}. Your financial aid award letter

p<>{color:#000;}. Scholarships, and

p<>{color:#000;}. Private loans

In Your Acceptance Letter:

If your college is really excited about having you, they’ll send you an award right in your acceptance letter that will be automatically applied to your account if you select that school. They typically offer this amount long before they receive your SAR, so this money is completely unrelated to your financial need. Sometimes these awards are small (maybe $5,000), and some will cover the entire cost of tuition. You’re more likely to get these awards if you find yourself in the top tier of that particular school’s pool of students.

In your Financial Aid Award Letter:

This is what comes after your school has had time to review your SAR. Essentially all money that you could possibly get from your institution and the federal government will be revealed on this single piece of paper. You’ll see any acceptance scholarships you already know you got, as well as grants, work study, and federal loan offers.


If you’re concerned that your award letter won’t be enough, you can turn to the world outside of academia for funding. Scholarships are a largely untapped resource. There is no shortage of them out there, and there are scholarships given out to all kinds of students (even those of us who don’t have the best study habits. Thousands of business, charities, and organizations offer scholarships to students, and most can be found using a hyper-targeted web search strategy, like the one I outline in Book 2 of this series. We’ll cover scholarships in more detail in the next chapter.

Private Loans:

Just about every financial services company offers private student loans. The interest rates will be higher than the federal student loans you’ll find in your award letter, but they work in a pinch when you’re short on the tuition bill for a semester. There is no need to look for private loans until after you’ve received your financial award letter and exhausted your scholarship search.

Good Old-Fashioned Cash

There’s one college funding source we haven’t touched on, and that is cold, hard cash. What! Pay a $30,000 tuition bill in cash!? Definitely not – but as a student, you can pay some small bills now to prevent them from becoming BIG bills later on. Saving just $80 a month while you’re in school could save you $5,000-7,500 later on. How? Because that adds up to $1000 a year you can pay in cash instead of taking out a loan that will grow in size.


These two terms are often used interchangeably, but here is a general rule of thumb to differentiate them: grants are need-based whereas scholarships are merit-based. There are scholarships for all kinds of things: religion, ethnicity, philanthropy, overcoming struggle, homelessness, hobbies, field of study, gender, academic achievement, and general financial need (just to name a few). Valedictorians and prom kings aren’t the only ones who win scholarships – there really is a prize for everyone, if you just know how to find them.

Scholarships usually require some sweat equity on your part – it can take time to identify the ones you’re qualified for, and they typically require a separate application form, an essay, and a recommendation letter, but they are definitely worth the effort. If you’re up for the challenge, start by downloading the free scholarship tracking sheet at howtogetcollegescholarships.com.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention service scholarships as well. The US military offers highly coveted ROTC scholarships for students who want to become officers, and non-military organizations like AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps offer either scholarships or tuition reimbursement for their members.


When getting more money isn’t an option, there are still steps you can take to cut costs. The following options are designed to limit the amount of time you’re paying full tuition, or to steer you towards some less expensive options.

1. Consider community college. Don’t want to do a full year of community college? Take a couple of generic gen-ed courses at your local community college before starting school. The early boost could help you graduate early, or might allow you the freedom to attend part-time later on while still graduating on time.

2. Load up on credits. Be extremely careful with this one – you don’t want to risk taking on too much such that your grades suffer. By taking one extra class per semester, you could save yourself a whole semester of college. Taking an extra class just a couple times might allow you the freedom to attend part-time later on while still graduating on time.

3. Consider the less expensive schools. You’ll want to apply to a variety of schools so you’ll have enough options on the table when it comes time to decide. You’ll be able to weigh financial aid and tuition costs in your final decision.

4. Consider going to a nearby out-of-state school – if you have the right major. Most of the 50 states partake in at least one regional tuition reciprocity agreement. Basically if your state doesn’t offer a particular major but a nearby one does, you may be eligible for in-state or close to in-state tuition at that nearby school. The regional programs are: New England Regional Students Program (NERSP) for New England Residents; Academic Common Market from the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB); Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE) under the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE); and Midwest Student Exchange Program (MSEP) under the Midwestern Higher Education Compact (MHEC).

Have more questions?

Talk to me on the How to Get College Scholarships [+ Facebook page+]

Dear Readers,

I hope you enjoyed this brief introduction. As a thanks for taking the time to read this guide, I’d like to offer you a sneak preview to Book 2 in this series, entitled How I Made $24,000 in College Scholarships, and How You Can Too[*:*]


Welcome! If you’re reading this guide, you’ve heard it before: “The average undergraduate comes out of school with around $30,000 in debt.” But that really doesn’t sound so bad, does it? That’s actually what many people spend on a new car. The scary part of that statement isn’t the amount, it’s that qualifier “average.” That one word is the difference between the people who come out 100% debt free, and the whole lot of people who come out with $50,000, $80,000 or even $100,000 in debt to bring that national average up to $30,000.

It was September 2008 and I was starting my senior year of high school. I knew what I wanted to do with my life and what college was going to take me there. I had selected a public university with a discounted regional tuition program that I qualified for. But the price-tag was worrying. I took another look at the in-state public school instead, which was about $7,000/year less but didn’t have the program I wanted. I considered starting at community college and then transferring later to the school of my dreams, but junior college didn’t have the language program I knew I would need during my freshman year. I knew I was either going to have to figure out how to pay for the school I selected, or delay my attendance until I could afford it. I poured over countless online financial aid calculators, read through just about every admittance scholarship my chosen school was known to offer, and repeatedly took on more hours at my high school job. But it was clear none of that would be enough. I made an appointment with my local Department of Education for help filling out FAFSA, and they gave me a little pamphlet about private scholarships. Private scholarships, they said, could pay $1-2 thousand a year for students who qualified. That piqued my interest; two thousand might be just enough for me to attend school next year. I took the literature they had and resolved to beat their estimate. I conducted hours of research, read the stories and biographies of previous scholarship winners around the Web, and I made a plan for applying. Just a few months later I had tallied up more than $6,000 in private scholarships and was setting my appointment for freshman orientation at the college I wanted. Little did I know, but that was the beginning of a $24,000 college financing package that I would come to build for myself. It took hard work and discipline, but I did it, and you can too.

Myth: College is only expensive for people who choose to go to expensive, private colleges.

Fact: I paid out-of-state tuition at a public university. A close friend paid in-state tuition at the same public university. She came out with almost $70,000 in debt more than I did. The truth is, costs sneak up on you.

Myth: Only valedictorians get scholarships.

Fact: I was ranked 30th in my high school graduating class, and that didn’t stop me.

Myth: I’ll get into a college first, and then I’ll start looking for scholarships.

Fact: Many scholarship deadlines pass before college applications are due, and the earlier they’re due, the less competition you’ll have!

Myth: My parents make too much money for me to get scholarships.

Fact: Who is going to college, you or your parents? While there are some need-based scholarships out there, over half of the scholarships I won required no financial information whatsoever.

Myth: There aren’t any scholarships I’m qualified for.

Fact: My friend, a liberal arts major, was once awarded a plumbing scholarship just because no one else applied. Scholarships yearn to be given out!

Myth: But I still can’t get scholarships.

Fact: Yes you can, and I’ll show you how.

This is your guide to building your very own college financing package. I’ll teach how to you to understand:

p<>{color:#000;}. What are scholarships, and how are they different from financial aid?

p<>{color:#000;}. How to make yourself look like an appealing applicant.

p<>{color:#000;}. Where and how to find scholarships.

p<>{color:#000;}. How to set up a winning application, from resumes to recommendation letters.

p<>{color:#000;}. The advantage of stacking small, local, private scholarships

p<>{color:#000;}. How to avoid scholarship scams (sadly they exist)

p<>{color:#000;}. How to work with your college bursar and the IRS to make sure your awards are processed correctly

p<>{color:#000;}. Follow-up procedures once you’ve gotten your first award!

My smallest scholarship was $275, and my largest was $5000, but combined they totaled over 24,000 and ultimately helped me get through college.

This concludes your preview of How I Made $24,000 in College Scholarships, and How You Can Too. Look for it on Amazon starting in October 2016!

The Ultimate Guide to Paying for College: A Free Introduction to Financial Aid,

  • ISBN: 9781370694204
  • Author: Alyssa Stenson
  • Published: 2016-10-16 22:50:10
  • Words: 2776
The Ultimate Guide to Paying for College: A Free Introduction to Financial Aid, The Ultimate Guide to Paying for College: A Free Introduction to Financial Aid,