While you may have heard of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, there are lots of other ways to get money to go to school or even to jump straight into the workforce.
We talked to college financial aid officers, scholarship coordinators and college application experts to find out what you need to know about financing your future.
Here are five tips for getting the financial aid you need for your post-high school plans.
1. Find out what your target colleges offer in financial aid.
The first thing to do is see what kind of support you can get from the colleges you are applying to. Often this is where students get most of the financial aid they need to pay for school.
Every school is going to be different. Kevin Curley, program director at College Possible Milwaukee, an AmeriCorps organization that helps high school students get into and complete college, says that college applicants should talk to admissions representatives.
“Talk with them about what your needs are. They are the best at navigating the financial aid system at their school and they are there to help you,” Curley said. “Before searching for independent scholarships, see what the school will give you because that may be all you need.”
If you’re not able to get hold of someone, most schools still try to make it easy to find scholarships.
For example, applicants to UW-Milwaukee can fill out a questionnaire on the Panther Portal that matches them to scholarships according to things like their high school GPA, family income or what they want to study. You can still get financial aid through UW-Milwaukee without completing this questionnaire, but completing it maximizes the amount of financial aid you will get.
MATC offers its MATC Promise scholarship that will cover the entire cost of tuition for eligible students after other grants and scholarships are applied. This scholarship is available to adults as well.
MATC also offers its DACA Plus Scholarship to non-U.S. citizens who are not eligible for financial aid because of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, also known as DACA, or undocumented status. The deadline for this scholarship is this Friday, Dec. 11.
2. Use scholarship search engines and apply to as many as you can.
After determining what you can get from each school you are applying to, look for outside scholarships. Often these scholarships are not connected to any one school and are available to anyone, though be sure to check the eligibility requirements before applying.
There are a few ways to find these scholarships. First, try College Greenlight. In addition to connecting you with counselors and offering information about colleges, College Greenlight also has a scholarship search engine that is full of scholarships for first generation and underrepresented students.
UW-Milwaukee also maintains a scholarship search engine for students attending or applying to the university. Maria Solis, assistant director of financial aid at UW-Milwaukee, said new scholarships are being added to this search engine all the time.
In addition to information about scholarships offered through its financial aid office, Carroll University also offers a guide to outside scholarships that includes financial aid tips, scholarship databases and scholarships by major. These scholarships can be applied to any school, not just Carroll University.
3. Use the resources available at your school.
Every traditional MPS high school has a resource center dedicated to helping students figure out their post-high school plans, whether that be going to college or jumping into the workforce. Most non-MPS high schools will have similar resource centers or counselors who are dedicated to offering similar guidance.
Karolyn Taylor, scholarship coordinator at MPS, maintains a page on MPS’ website dedicated to paying for college. On this page, students can find resources on filling out the FAFSA, upcoming events with colleges and links for MPS students to research schools and scholarships.
The page also includes resources on applying to schools serving primarily students of color, such as Historically Black Colleges and Universities, or HBCUs, that MPS and non-MPS students can access.
4. Even if you are unsure you will get anything, apply anyway.
Often, students rule themselves out of opportunities without even trying. Amanda Wysk, financial aid assistant at Carroll University, said that students lose out on opportunities because they think they need to be perfect.
“The biggest misconception is that you have to be a ‘perfect student’ to win a scholarship,” Wysk said. “Having good grades will help, but many scholarships don’t have GPA cutoffs at all or have ones that many students can meet, such as 2.0 or 2.5.”
Sometimes, students will decide that a small scholarship isn’t worth the trouble, or that they will get enough in need-based aid from the school that accepts them. While sometimes a school will award you enough to cover tuition, smaller scholarships can help cover other expenses such as books or housing.
5. Even if you don’t want to go to college right away, there are opportunities available for you.
For students looking to enter the workforce directly after high school, MPS also maintains a job board with apprenticeships and paid internships for high school seniors. John Hill, director of college and career readiness at MPS, said that many of these opportunities are available to non-MPS students as well.
Here are some additional scholarships specific to Wisconsin or Milwaukee. Note that some of these may not be open until spring 2021.