Debunking Some Common Myths about Financial Aid

Once you start applying to college, and for the financial aid to help you pay for it, you're likely to start hearing some rumors. Below are some of the most common myths about scholarships and financial aid, and the real deal behind them.

Myth: The competition for scholarships and financial aid is too intense for me to even bother.

If you do your research and choose which scholarships and aid to apply for based on your talents, grades, and interests, there is absolutely no reason you're not just as likely to get it as the next person. Have some faith in yourself!

Myth: Only straight-A students get scholarships.

Having a 4.0 GPA won't guarantee you a scholarship. B- or even C students with a history of leadership in extracurricular activities or involvement within their communities have good chances of winning scholarships.

Myth: Applying for financial aid diminishes your chances of being accepted by a college.

The truth is, most college admissions offices and financial aid offices are kept purposefully separate (including the filing of separate paperwork that goes to separate locations), so there is no chance of even looking like they compare the two.

Put this to rest now: Your financial status does not determine your worthiness for admission.

Myth: My parents make too much money to qualify for financial aid.

There are circumstances that mean someone from any family, regardless of income, might qualify for aid. For example, no matter how lucrative your parents' jobs are, what if they are also putting your two siblings through college at the same time? What if your younger brother has high medical bills because of illness? What if your heart is set on attending Harvard — which costs nearly $50,000 a year?

Financial aid is awarded to families from all income levels.

Regarding scholarships, while it's true that a majority are awarded on need, quite a few are awarded on talent or merits. If you're quarterback of the state championship football team or have the highest SAT scores in your state, you can probably get a scholarship regardless of income.

Myth: Applying for a loan decreases my chances for financial aid.

What's funny about this myth is that it's often perpetuated by parents, who — for whatever reason — think that getting student loans will entice the college to reduce scholarship money that would have otherwise been awarded. The truth is, you should ask your college about its policy. At some schools, this might actually be true. But at many other schools, taking out loans does not reduce your chances of being awarded financial aid.

Myth: You have to pay for a scholarship up front.

There are "scholarship search organizations" that, often for a fee, claim to go out and find the best scholarships for you to apply for. These are often just scams. Sometimes, the fees these search organizations charge are quite high, and in return, they give you information that you could easily have gotten on your own — for free.

Myth: Millions of dollars of scholarship money sits unused every year.

The scholarship search organizations mentioned above often tell you this. What's closer to the truth is that most unclaimed money is slated for few candidates with explicit credentials, such as the children of employees of specific companies or students with the last name Pinkypank who wish to attend Hanover College.

Myth: I can't afford private schools.

What's most important in your search for a college is finding a place where you will excel, with the academic programs that interest you and a campus environment on which you'll feel comfortable. The truth is, you might even have a better chance of receiving financial aid from a private school. Private schools often have more aid to give, and the higher tuition at a private school may give you a better chance of proving financial aid necessary.

It's likely that you'll hear at least one of these myths as you navigate your way through the college-application process. Generally, your friends and acquaintances mean no harm when they perpetuate a myth, but remember: Just because your "best friend's older brother's best friend's girlfriend's cousin applied for a scholarship and didn't get it . . . " doesn't mean that you shouldn't try.