How to pay for college – part I

The process of getting into and selecting a college is nothing compared to the joy (joy = terror mixed with confusion and occasional moments of gastric distress) of navigating the financial aid/scholarship/tuition process.  I am not an expert on the aid side, but I’ll cover a few basics over the next few days.

First off, admissions officers tend to use a lot of jargon to keep you on your toes.  Basically there are two types of aid: merit-based and need-based.  Merit based is what you typically call scholarships.  There are every kind of these you can imagine – scholarships for having a great acaedmic record, for being a great athlete, for being the only one-armed, one-eyed, red-haired, double-reeded instrument player in the greater Paducah area.  The reason for all the options is because there are different sources of money, and the sources have a lot to do with how you find them.

Most (and by most I really mean NEARLY ALL) of scholarships are funded by the universities themselves in an attempt to buy the kind of students they want.  Athletic scholarships are probably the best known, and are generally handled directly by the coaches.  Athletic recruitment could (and does) fill several blogs all on its own, so I’ll leave that for another time (if you crave information now, check out the NCAA site at

Most academic scholarships are awarded by the admissions process, and are meant to help recruit the best students.  This may mean, depending on what the school needs, the highest GPA, rank, scores, or some combination.  Scholarship awards can be very simple (ie – every valedictorian get a full ride, and their own pony) or every bit as complicated as admissions decisions.  Colleges and universities may have a separate scholarship application, have a scholarship application as part of their admission application, or just use the information in your admission application.  Regardless, you should bear in mind that scholarship committees usually have access to everything in your admission application.  Academic and athletic scholarships account for the vast majority of money available to first time freshmen.  Probably the most important thing to keep in mind for these award is to get your materials in on time, since most schools award far more than they have.  That’s because many students will receive offers and scholarships from more than one school, and we have to make some estimates on how many of you will accept our offers.  This is a complicated statistical process involving regression analysis, and in extreme cases a Magic Eight-Ball. 

In the next few days I’ll cover other scholarships at colleges and universities, especially the very entertaining world of bizarre scholarships funded by donors (my favorite was one for only ‘C’ grade students), followed by other sources, and web sites where you can find scholarships.  Also, we’ll talk about the thieving scam artists that will try to take your money in exchange for “helping” you get money you could get any time on your own (note – this is not intended to implicate either of the political parties – although they do that too).  Finally, when you’re REALLY sick and tired of hearing about this stuff, I’ll talk about need-based aid to make sure you’re REALLY confused.  Be seeing you.


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