Shark Week
and the Common Application going "live" at the very same time. Coincidence, or calculated by design to strike fear in the hearts and minds of swimmers and college-bound students alike? Hmmm. The College Whisperer reports. You decide. Is it me, or does anyone else hear the theme from Jaws playing in their heads? Oh well...

Anyway, speaking of sharks, has anyone looked at the cost of tuition these days, not to mention room and board? Cue the Great White...

D.G. of Sea Clff, NY writes:

My daughter will be starting college (University of Maryland) in a few weeks, and has been awarded both scholarships and a Stafford loan to help defray the costs. Is there anything she has to do to assure that she gets this money?

The College Whisperer

First, congrats to you and your daughter on her acceptance to UMD, and on the scholarship award. Sounds like she's well on her way.

Financial aid awards offered by colleges are typically just that, offers. While some schools take silence as acquiescence, meaning that the student need not do a thing to accept the award, most colleges require some sort of affirmative action (no racial profiling here ;-) on the part of the student in order to accept (or decline) the award (be it a scholarship, grant, work-study or loan), in whole or in part.

So, like the Seinfeld car rental episode ("You know how to take a reservation. You just don't know how to keep a reservation."), as a matter of course, the student has to respond to the offer (usually accomplished online via the college's financial aid portal) in order for the school to actually show her the money. [Some colleges have deadlines for accepting financial aid awards, so be aware and don't procrastinate!]

Once accepted, scholarship money will then be automatically applied against the tuition bill, without further ado. As for loans, generally speaking, as they, unlike scholarships, eventually have to be paid back, there's other paperwork (almost always online, electronically filed) that must be completed and submitted.

Stafford loans, administered by the U.S. Department of Education, require the completion of Entrance Counseling (for first-time loan recipients) and the submission of a Master Promissory Note (MPN). [Yes, payback is a Note, if nothing more...] These can be found at StudentLoans.Gov, and will require a login with the PIN established for FAFSA. [Remember FAFSA? We certainly hope so!]

Once you've digitally crossed the "t"s, dotted the "i"s and electronically signed your life away, the loan money will be disbursed, almost always directly to the college, to be applied against your tuition bill. [Anything left over, if you should be so lucky, is usually disbursed to the student. Schools vary on this, so do check with your college's financial aid office.]

It is also important to note (promissory, and otherwise), that while certain scholarships are self-renewing, most are for this school year only. You are likely required to apply for scholarship money anew each year, and, whether or not this is so, you should continue to search for scholarships, grants, etc. during your Freshman year and beyond to help pay for subsequent years of college. [Barring the full-ride, where all four years of college are paid for (with or without conditions), The College Whisperer
 is simply amazed (aghast is more like it) at how many students give up on the search for scholarships once they've been accepted to college. You're there for four years, folks. Hellllloooooooo. Keep looking for that money!]

And so, as the sharks circle -- at the beach and around your wallets -- we offer this bit of sage advice. Stay out of the water when the lifeguards tell you so, and be college-savvy and money-wise, letting The College Whisperer
 help keep you in the know!

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of The College Whisperer.

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