Funding your Dreams: Five Things You Need to Know About Financial Aid
Every year a number of college funding opportunities—including millions of dollars in federal aid alone– are not used by students who would qualify if they simply applied to receive the financial help. In the latest year for which statistics are available (2007-2008) 42.2 percent of community college students and 23.2 percent of students at four-year colleges failed to apply for Pell Grants, even though they were qualified to receive this money to help pay for their tuition.
Financial aid can mean the difference between starting and finishing a degree, so it is important to know the basics—and to carry out on the steps you need to complete:
1. Fill out a FAFSA form each year. The FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. A good strategy is to complete a FAFSA form each January as you complete your income tax return because then you will have all the financial information available and at hand in order to answer the questions for this online application. You must complete a FASFA each year in which you want to receive financial aid.
2. Need help? Ask for it! Some colleges are so understaffed in the financial aid department they don’t offer to help students, so if you want help you need to ask for it. You should be willing to make several trips to the aid office. That might be what it takes to get a financial aid counselor to help you create a financial plan to pay for college.
3. Put your family and friends to work; ask family and friends to help you complete the forms and watch for special scholarships. You are more likely to stay on top of the work if you have other people helping you. Your family and friends want you to succeed, and this is a way that they can help contribute to your success, and all it costs them is their time.
4. Finding scholarships: There are three main sources of scholarships for health information management (HIM) students: The AHIMA Foundation awards about $90,000 annually in HIM scholarships for associate, baccalaureate, and master’s degree students. If you are a student member of AHIMA ($35 a year) you qualify for the state-level scholarships offered by your component state association. Many college and universities now have federal aid dollars, derived from ARRA legislation to help train students in HIM and health informatics programs. Contact your local program to learn about school-based aid, but be sure to specifically ask about ARRA aid dollars as this is a new program.
5. Doing your part: Once you receive a grant or scholarship (money you don’t have to repay) it is up to you to maintain your eligibility. That typically means: (1) picking a major and working toward a definite degree, (2) keeping your grades in the “satisfactory academic progress” range, and (3) taking the required number of classes to keep your grant or scholarship in effect. Some aid requires full-time attendance, while others will require at least steady part-time attendance. Be sure you know the rules regarding your own aid package.