Don’t Believe Everything You Hear
Literally billions of dollars in financial aid is available to those who need help paying for college. Yet lots of misinformation clouds the facts about what type of aid is available and who is eligible. Here are some myths dispelled for students confronting the process of securing financial aid.

College Is Just Too Expensive for Our Family

Despite the media hype about rising college costs, a college education is more affordable than most people think, especially when you consider college graduates earn an average of $1 million more over their careers than high-school graduates. The average yearly cost of a four-year public school in 2002-2003 is just $4,081. There are some expensive schools, but high tuition is not a requirement for a good education.

There’s Less Aid Available than There Used to Be

In fact, student financial aid in 2001-2002 rose to a record level of more than $90 billion. Most students receive some form of aid. Less of this aid now comes in the form of grants, however; most aid is awarded through low-interest loans or institutional and other grants. You should consider carefully the financing packages you’ve been offered by each college to determine which makes the most financial sense.

My Parents’ Income Is Too High to Qualify for Aid

Aid is intended to make a college education available for students of families in many financial situations. College financial aid administrators often take into account not only income but also other family members in college, home mortgage costs, and other factors. Aid is awarded to many families with incomes they thought would disqualify them.

My Parents Saved for College, So We Won’t Qualify for Aid

Saving for college is always a good idea. Since most financial aid comes in the form of loans, the aid you are likely to receive will need to be repaid. Tucking away money could mean you have fewer loans to repay, and it won’t mean you’re not eligible for aid if you need it. A family’s share of college costs is calculated based mostly on income, not assets such as savings.

I’m not a Straight “A” Student, So I Won’t Get Aid

It’s true that many scholarships reward merit, but the vast majority of federal aid is based on financial need and does not even consider grades.

If I Apply for a Loan, I Have to Take It

Families are not obligated to accept a low-interest loan if it is awarded to them. “In my opinion, everybody should apply for financial aid,” says Tally Hart, Director of Student Financial Aid at The Ohio State University. “Student loans are at all-time low interest rates.” She recommends applying and comparing the loan awards with other debt instruments and assets to determine the best financial deal.

Working Will Hurt My Academic Success

Students who attempt to juggle full-time work and full-time studies do struggle. But research shows that students who work a moderate amount often do better academically. Securing an on-campus job related to career goals is a good way for you to help pay college costs, get experience, and create new ties with the university.

I Should Live at Home to Cut Costs

It’s wise to study every avenue for reducing college costs, but living at home may not be the best way. Be sure to consider commuting and parking costs when you do this calculation. Living on campus may create more opportunities for work and other benefits.

Private Schools Are Out of Reach for My Family
Experts recommend deferring cost considerations until late in the college-selection process. Most important is finding a school that meets your academic, career, and personal needs. In fact, you might have a better chance of receiving aid from a private school. Private colleges often offer more financial aid to attract students from every income level. Higher college expenses also mean a better chance of demonstrating financial need.

Millions of Dollars in Scholarships Go Unused Every Year

Professional scholarship search services often tout this statistic. In fact, most unclaimed money is slated for a few eligible candidates, such as employees of a specific corporation or members of a certain organization. Most financial aid comes from the federal government, though it’s also a good idea to research nonfederal sources of aid.

My Folks Will Have to Sell Their House to Pay for College

Home value is not considered in calculations for federal financial aid. Colleges may take home equity into account when determining how much you are expected to contribute to college costs, but income is a far greater factor in this determination. No college will expect your parents to sell their house to pay for your education.

We Can Negotiate a Better Deal

Many colleges will be sensitive to a family’s specific financial situation, especially if certain nondiscretionary costs, such as unusually high medical bills, have been overlooked. But most colleges adhere to specific financial aid-award guidelines and will not adjust an award for a family that feels it got a better deal at another school. “We won’t bargain, but we want to make sure we know the family’s full financial picture,” says Tally Hart, Director of Student Financial Aid at The Ohio State University.