Melissa Levy, 17, was stoked when she found out she won a $10,000 scholarship to University of the Pacific earlier this month in honor of her success as an Academic Decathlete.
Pair that up with the $10,000 she would have gotten anyway for participating in the Academic Decathlon, and the Lodi High senior thought she could afford to go to school.
Unfortunately for Levy, it wasn't that simple.
Pacific officials said Levy could only qualify for one of the two scholarships.
"If I don't get both I can't go to UOP," Levy said in Lodi High School's career center Wednesday afternoon.
For many high school seniors, going to college entails not only having their grades in order, but having the cash to pay the bills.
However, financial aid experts say that with a little elbow grease and a few extra hours most students can earn some dollars for college.
Becky Jauregui, college and career adviser at Lodi High School, said one of the reasons students don't apply for financial aid is they fear they won't qualify.
In terms of getting money for college, not applying for financial aid is one of the worst mistakes a student can make, said Celeste Quiñones, financial aid outreach specialist for San Joaquin Delta College.
Both Jauregui and Quiñones agree that students should start with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.
To qualify for state aid California students need to complete their FAFSA no later than March 2.
Cash for College will sponsor the following financial aid workshops. Those who attend will be entered into a drawing for a $1,000 scholarship.
At the workshop, parents and students will be able to get help filling out the FAFSA.
• When and where: Feb. 21, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Lodi High School, 3 S. Pacific Ave., Lodi.
Contact Becky Jauregui at firstname.lastname@example.org
for more information.
• When and where: Feb. 26, 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. at San Joaquin Delta College, 5151 Pacific Ave., Stockton.
Contact Gail Hixson at 954-5115 for more information.
Materials to bring
If you don't have all these materials, that's OK. Bring what you
• Student's driver's license.
• Social Security card or number for both student and parent.
• Month and year of parents' marriage, separation or divorce.
• Alien registration number if you are not a U.S. citizen.
• Parents' and student's 2007 income information.
• Parents' and student's tax information. If you don't have 2007 information, bring the previous year's information.
• A bank statement from 2007.
• Any records of untaxed income, such as welfare benefits, Social Security benefits or child support payments.
• A list of colleges you have applied or plan on applying to
• Student and parent PIN. Find out why and how to get a PIN at http://www.pin.ed.gov.
Source: Cash for College
Tips on getting cash for college
• No matter what your financial situation, fill out a Free
Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA now, right now.
• Get the FAFSA in as soon as possible, or at least by March 2, to qualify for the most money.
• Look for scholarships. Try the local scholarships first. After exhausting those, look for national ones that you might qualify for at scholarship Web sites, such as http://www.fastweb.com or http://www.schoolsoup.com.
• Even if the scholarship might seem out of your league, apply anyway. If you don't ask, the answer will always be "no."
• Get letters of recommendation even before you know what scholarships you're going to apply for. Teachers like advanced notice. Plus, you can get different teachers to focus on different strengths and use those tailored letters for whatever scholarship is the best fit.
• Erase from your mind the idea that you're not qualified to get a scholarship. They aren't just for 4.0 students.
• Go to a financial aid workshop. There experts will give you advice for your specific situation.
• For even more help, go to your high school's career and college counseling center. Every high school should have one, and if they don't know the answer, they can point you in the right direction.
Sources: Becky Jauregui and Celeste Quiñones
If students miss the March 2 deadline, they should still fill out the form, because they could still qualify for federal funds. But those students will miss out on a potential CalGrants, which pay up to $9,700, depending on for which grant the student qualifies.
Even those students whose parents make too much money to qualify for federal or state aid should still fill out a FAFSA, Jauregui said.
Sometimes a student's financial situation will change mid-year. One of their parents might get sick or lose his or her job. A student who has a FAFSA on file will be able to amend it, Jauregui said. Those who don't will have to wait until next year to qualify for any financial help.
Quiñones added that sometimes students will think they don't have to fill out the FAFSA because they plan to apply for loans instead.
When students apply for loans, banks will use the FAFSA as a reference.
"(Students) can be certain if they don't apply they will be disqualified," Quiñones said.
After the student fills out a FAFSA, they should receive a report that says how much their family is expected to contribute to their education.
"It's never what you think it will be," Jauregui said, but it's a start.
The student will also find out what, if any, financial aid they can get.
After students finish tapping into government resources, Jauregui said, they should start thinking about scholarships.
Every high school should have a staff member that gathers scholarship information that they think would be helpful to students.
At Lodi High, Jauregui puts all the scholarships that she thinks are relevant into a newsletter that's available to all seniors.
Jauregui suggests that students apply for local scholarships first. More than likely the pool of applicants is smaller and students have a better chance of getting picked.
The more scholarships a student applies for, the better their chances are for winning. So, apply to as many as possible, Jauregui suggests.
For some students, that means applying to six or seven scholarships. But every year, Jauregui said she comes across a few students that apply to 40 or 50 scholarships. Those are the students with the most success.
Applying to so many might sound tedious, but it's easier than you think, Jauregui said.
"After you do several, it's the same information," she said.
Some scholarships will require letters of recommendation. The savvy students, Jauregui said, will ask teachers for letters before they even know what scholarships to which they're going to apply. Then, they'll get those teachers to tailor the letters to emphasize different strengths, and pair those letters with the scholarships that match their strengths.
Be sure, Jauregui warns, to give the letter writer plenty of notice, though. Not only do people not want to be given something at the last minute, but their haste could come out in the student's letter.
Students often make the mistake of not applying to scholarships because they think they're not accomplished enough.
"The perception out there is that sort of thing is for the 4.0 students. That's really not true," Jauregui said. "Sometimes a 2.0 is all you need."
Many scholarships have a career focus, and not all of those careers require that the student be considering going to a four-year college.
For instance, Jauregui said, students can earn scholarships to go to cosmetology school, a school where they learn to operate heavy equipment or another trade school.
Lastly, both Jauregui and Quiñones said, students should contact the college they want to go to and see what help they can offer.
Sometimes the college will have funds of its own that they can dole out. Or, maybe, they can set up some sort of work study plan, where students can work on campus to help pay for their tuition.
Colleges want students to be able to pay their tuition, Quiñones said, so they can be very accommodating.
"Colleges provide help. It's free and it's one on one," Quiñones said.
Quiñones added that Delta College provides numerous workshops for parents and students, even if their students don't plan on attending a community college.