You've been accepted by the college of your choice. Congrats!

They've even offered you a handsome scholarship (that's free money, folks), if only you'd say yes. Neat!

You consider all offers from the colleges you've applied to, weigh the financial aid awards, and you accept. Way to go!

Come August, as you are packing your belongings for the trip to campus, that tuition bill arrives in the mail (or, more likely, by way of email alert advising that your semester invoice is available for viewing via the web portal). You open the invoice, expecting to see that scholarship (and maybe some student loan dollars), and NOTHING! 

What happened?

They told you that you were awarded a scholarship, didn't they? Where did the money go?

Well, what the college of your dreams might not have told you is, in order to actually GET that scholarship money, you had to submit the CSS Profile, complete the FAFSA, and/or fill out school-specific financial aid forms.


You never completed the CSS Profile, although the college requires this lengthy and complicated financial aid statement in order to be considered for financial aid of any kind, whether merit or need-based.

Ouch! Ouch!

You didn't bother to submit the FAFSA, though every college requires it for federal grants, Work Study and Stafford loans, and many consider it as the application for a host of institutional scholarships (including, perhaps, the very one you were awarded in that acceptance letter).

Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!

You never bothered to look on the college websites to see whether the schools you've applied to have their own financial aid forms, the submission of which is a prerequisite to getting that coveted financial aid award.

Ouch! Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!

And you never bothered to follow through on that all-important search for scholarships aside from those offered by the colleges themselves, so you'll never see one thin dime to offset that huge bill for tuition, room and board.

It hurts too much to say OUCH!!!

Don't let the opportunity to pocket free money for college pass you by. And don't leave scholarship money* you may have already been awarded on the table.

- Prepare and submit the CSS Profile for the colleges requiring the CSS Profile.

- Complete and submit the FAFSA (on or after January 1) for ALL colleges you've applied to.

- Check the financial aid page on the website of every college you are considering to see if school-specific forms are required in order to be considered for financial aid. If so, complete and submit all necessary forms.

- Submit all applications and financial aid forms well in advance of federal, state, and school deadlines, including those so-called "priority deadlines" set by the colleges themselves.

- Search and, by all means, apply for outside scholarships*. [This is where the bulk of free money for college is hidden, and too often overlooked!] 

And don't be afraid to ask for help in preparing and completing financial aid applications and forms, and in creating and implementing a winning scholarship search strategy. Preparing and submitting financial aid applications can be as "complex and nuanced" as completing and submitting the college applications themselves, often, more so. Mess up, and you may miss out!

*And remember, scholarships are not only for the poor, the underserved, minorities, or those with perfect grades and SAT scores. You, too, can get money for college, but you've got to be in it to win it! 
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For additional insights, READ, How NOT To Get Money For College

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