Guest Blogger, Rebecca Daughtry, Statewide FAFSA Completion Services Coordinator and Program Specialist for Career Compass

One of the things I hear most in my work as a Career Compass college & career coach is the frustration that students and families experience when they contemplate how to pay for college.  For the sake of simplicity – something you rarely encounter in this topic – I want to first “simply” explain financial aid as a concept. Then, I’ll discuss different types of financial aid and how to access them.

**For those of you who don’t care to understand financial aid and just want to know the next best thing to do – just make sure you complete your FAFSA and check out Career Compass' scholarships.**

Otherwise, please bear with my analogy. Paying for college or any post-secondary training is like making or ordering a pizza.  Did I just blow your mind? Both involve a bunch of options (Do I want pepperoni today? Should I go out-of-state?), and both require decisions to be made. Pizza and college go hand-in-hand, am I right?

The pizza crust is the foundation of the pizza, and here, represents cost (also known as COA – Cost of Attendance). The thickness of that crust indicates the level of affordability.

  • Thin crust = local community college or Louisiana technical colleges.
  • Traditional crust = state universities that offer affordable housing and meal plans and that is located in town/city where cost of living is moderate to low.
  • Thick crust = private colleges in towns/cities with a moderate to high cost of living.
  • Deep dish “Chicago-style” crust = out-of-state public and private schools with out of state tuition and located in towns/cities with moderate to high cost of living.

Still with me? Next, we need to cover up that delicious crust. No one wants a topping-less pizza. Covering the crust of your choice can be represented by the toppings available. Every family has different capabilities for covering costs, so the toppings will look different for everyone .

The pizza sauce = Eligibility (also known as EFC – Eligible Family Contribution) for covering costs. When you complete the FAFSA, you figure out your EFC. This will indicate whether or not your family is eligible for need based aid, which consists of Pell Grants, federal student loans, and any need based state aid available. Every pizza needs sauce. Even if you think you don’t need it, you do – just like everyone needs to complete the FAFSA.

The cheese, meat, and veggies = These are the scholarships otherwise known as merit-based aid. These come in the form of scholarships, which are earned by students and accessed by completing applications. In Louisiana, the one everyone thinks of most is TOPS. TOPS is accessed by completing your FAFSA and having your ACT scores sent to the Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance.

Let's talk about the different types of scholarships available to you. There are basically three types of scholarship funding.

  1. The first and your largest pool of funding comes from the college of your choice. They each have different rules for applying and deadlines. Those are typically listed individually on each college’s website. This requires even more patience and a bit of research. Still, totally worth it!
  2. A second source of scholarship funding is your local scholarship offerings. The amounts of each scholarship may look smaller in comparison, but these organizations and/or businesses want to congratulate your hard work by helping you succeed. They have a vested interest in the success of their community’s students. Your school counselor usually has a list of local scholarship opportunities, and your Career Compass college & career coach does, too.
  3. Lastly, you can also find scholarships available from various national organizations. You can access those through national scholarship search sites. Career Compass both sponsors specific scholarships and curates scholarship offerings from such sites and lists them on our website to ease your stress. Also, make sure you “like” us on Facebook, and follow us on Instagram and Twitter to get updates.

Final Thoughts:  I know that truly understanding the ins and outs of financial aid isn’t the most natural, intuitive thing. I hope my analogy helped you understand it a little better. If you don’t remember anything else, please remember these two things: (1) A Career Compass college & career coach is trained on this and other topics. PLEASE use your coach as a resource. (2) NEVER pay money to a company or person claiming to be a FAFSA or scholarship application expert. There are plenty of free, reputable resources out there to help you.

About Rebecca: Rebecca is in her second year of service to Career Compass of Louisiana, and has been the college access and advocacy field for 10 years. She serves as a North Louisiana region college & career coach, as well as the statewide FAFSA Completion Services Coordinator and Program Specialist. Rebecca’s efforts to improve higher education access for Louisiana students is her professional and personal passion. The financial aid specialty chose her rather than the reverse because she is far too serious for her own good. She’s a happy Career Compass “nerd.”