By Sydney Calhoun

Who would have thought that a journalism major would be working in a university financial aid office, but I’m glad I do!  In today’s world of student loans and repayment plans, life can get the best of your wallet. After all, two-thirds of students at public universities like mine have student loans.

I’ve learned a few key lessons while working in Student Financial Aid at the University of Missouri.  Here are my tips:

  1. Always get your FAFSA in by your school’s priority deadline (often in February or March), even though FAFSA will tell you their deadline is June 30 for the fall school year. Getting it in early allows you the possibility for additional scholarships and grant opportunities. I see many studsd who qualify for scholarships but file their FAFSA a day or so late, and therefore, can’t be considered. Scholarships and grants are based on things such as merit, diversity, alumni status, location and more. By simply checking your school’s financial aid website and filling out an annual scholarship application, you may qualify for aid in addition to loans that you might otherwise have missed.
  2. Don’t be intimidated by the Financial Aid office. Sure, it might be in the basement of the administration building, but they are there to help. If they understand your circumstances, they can guide you in the best direction.
  3. One big misconception is subsidized and unsubsidized loans. After working in the office, I understand how they work – subsidized loans have lower interest rates, and don’t accrue interest during college, while unsub sized loans have higher rates, and accrue interest while you are in school.
  4. Talking about finances is a part of life that you can learn about in college. Of course, talking about finances means taking a realistic look at your (and your parents’) income.

From filing your own taxes to understanding the FAFSA application, the paperwork and numbers can be confusing to students.  So, whether your school has a Financial Aid Office or an Office for Financial Success, there are many tools available to help you plan, prepare and save.

So, make sure you scour your school’s Financial Aid website, and go visit.  Sign up for their social media updates, if they do that, as it will alert you to upcoming deadlines.  Mizzou, for example, tweets our scholarship opportunities each week.  This gives Mizzou students the chance to learn about scholarships without having to look through the long list on the website.  The Financial Aid Office also helps students understand how to get in-state tuition by following several rules that will gain them resident status.

Also, make sure that you make your parents your partner in this effort – it’s a good way to have a team helping you understand deadlines and other facts you need for your application.  If you stick to deadlines and maximize the information you get when you visit, then you can save and plan for worthwhile experiences like study abroad.

Calhoun is a junior studying journalism at the University of Missouri.