College Money Tree

Paying for college may be more nerve-racking than opening college admission letters! Speaking from experience, it is a trial and error process that cannot be avoided in order to reduce or eliminate college debt.  With a wide range of scholarship opportunities available, it is entirely possible to throw out the saying “money doesn’t grow on trees” and create your own money tree.

Follow these tips towards creating your own money tree:

1. Fill out your FAFSA!
Start from the root of all financial aid by completing your FAFSA form. “Fill out the FAFSA as soon as you can! The earlier you submit it the better. It’s super easy,” excitedly exclaims Cassandra Barraza, a 20-year-old college student at the University of Texas at El Paso. The hardest part of filling out the FAFSA is sitting down to do it. The entire process takes approximately 20 minutes to fill out, but it is easy since each question has a helpful tip. You only need your parents’ income taxes, it’s that simple. Even FAFSA understands the procrastination habits of students. They released a new IRS Data Retriever tool, which automatically retrieves information from your parents’ income taxes. Cool, right?

2. Tick-Tock, don’t waste time:
Avoid procrastination! Failure to search for financial aid sources will only lead to the worst case scenario, debt. Loans are the final alternative when personal funds are lacking. The more you neglect searching for scholarships and grants, the chances of missing out on opportunities to receive FREE money will increase. Yes, FREE MONEY! Search and apply early to reduce inadequate or poor essay responses, missed deadlines, and to relieve the stress of having to do everything in one sitting.

“Space it out, it’s better that way,” advises Cassandra. “It’s a long process, but it’s worth it. Start early and keep at it, just find the time to do it. There’s tons of stuff out there.” Apply to as many scholarships and grants as possible starting as early as your junior year in high school. For those who procrastinated on applying, take Cassandra’s advice and “apply, apply, apply! Just because you graduated doesn’t mean you missed the boat on scholarships. You can still apply as a college student to reduce debt.”

3. Research, research, research! Apply, apply, apply!
According to a  Sallie Mae and Ipsos report, 33% of student funding came from scholarships and grants. Grants and scholarships do not have to be repaid and the sheer amount of academic and non-academic scholarships there are can secure your college dreams. There are quirky and unique scholarships out there, like for vegetarians and  duct tape prom dresses.

Who does not like free stuff? No one!  Sign up for free services like Fastweb to see what scholarship, internship, and grant opportunities are out there.  In 2007 and 2008, the average student debt was $23, 186, which means several people have to pay close to $200 a month for student loans. The only definite way you will not receive any form of free aid is by not applying.  Any size scholarship can help. The less YOU pay the better, right?

4. Embrace your ethnicity and cultural heritage, apply to minority scholarships.
Minority scholarships are on the rise. The  Hispanic Scholarship Fund is one of the largest supporters of making college dreams come true. Their comprehensive list of Hispanic scholarships and Latino College Dollars search engine are useful tools for creating your own money tree. Actually, you can practically create a forest by the sheer amount of scholarships they offer.

HSF.net offers educational tools and resources for families and students and they are not alone in ensuring Latinos achieve success in higher education.  Hispanicgrants.net and Chci.org/chciyouth also offer extensive resources for Latino students in high school and in college. The resources are available, take advantage of them. For a comprehensive list of the most popular Latino scholarships click HERE.

5. Most important tip of them all, create a financial aid plan.
In 2011, a College Board study found “public four-year universities charged residents an average of $8,244, up 8.3% from [2010], while public two-year schools charged an average of $2,963, up 8.7%.” Be smart with your money and form a realistic budget by managing your expenses, spend wisely, create a spending plan, sort your priorities, and, most importantly, manage your debt.  Avoid the ramen noodle college diet; be wise with your dinero.

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