Every Friday I post about one of the lessons I’ve learned so far in life, both financial and about life in general. We’ve all learned valuable lessons along life’s journey, sometimes the easy way and sometimes the hard way. Hopefully someone will read what I learned and avoid having to learn the same thing the hard way. Check back every Friday for a new lesson learned.
College Financial Aid
When I was a senior in high school, my parents and I received a letter in the mail from a company hosting a financial aid seminar. It said they would discuss how college financial aid works and strategies for getting the most aid. The seminar was free, so we decided to attend.
The presenters at this seminar concentrated mostly on explaining how the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) worked and how most financial aid is based on information contained in this form. They really emphasized the importance of filling out your FAFSA correctly and recited several horror stories of students that filled out their forms wrong and missed out on financial aid.
They concluded this seminar with a sales pitch. Basically, for $500 (I think that was the price, but I don’t remember for sure), they would fill out your FAFSA and make sure all the forms were correct. In addition, they would send you a bunch of information about the colleges you were interested in attending. We didn’t want to risk filling out the forms wrong and missing out on financial aid. We were a pretty poor family, and financial aid was the only way I was going to be able to attend college. So, we paid the money and signed up to have them fill out my FAFSA. Later on when we actually looked at the FAFSA, we realized that this company was basically running a scam, albeit a perfectly legal one.
Now, anyone that’s ever filled out a FAFSA knows that it really isn’t that difficult to fill out. Almost all the dollar figures on this form come straight from your completed tax return. But at the time of that seminar, we didn’t know any of this. I was the first of my family (including extended family) to go to college, and we were all pretty clueless about the whole financial aid/paying for college thing. For my next three years, I filled out my own FAFSA online. It was easy and didn’t take very long at all.
There are many companies out there doing the same thing: preying upon those that don’t know enough about financing college. Technically, this company did nothing illegal. They filled out my FAFSA that year for $500. It was just a rip-off. I know now that there are many resources available to assist families that need help filling out financial aid forms.
Along the same lines, I know there are other companies out there that charge a fee to help locate college scholarships. The thing is, you can go online and search for college scholarships for free. You can go to your guidance counselor’s office in high school and find many available scholarships as well.
The Bottom Line
Before agreeing to attend any type of seminar or pay for any service, do some research first. If we had done this, we would have known not to waste our money. And know that any company that offers to find scholarships or fill out financial aid forms for a fee is just out to take advantage of you.