Seniors, you should still be applying for scholarships at this time. But, as you do, please check with the colleges to which you’ve applied about how they handle scholarships from private groups and organizations— known as “outside awards”—in the calculation of their financial aid award. Different colleges calculate their impact differently.
Colleges are legally prohibited from overawarding federal aid. In other words, the total amount of aid a student receives cannot be greater than a college’s cost, and usually not more than a student’s overall calculated financial need. Some colleges count half an outside award toward grant aid and half toward student self- help, lowering the student’s work- study or loan amount by the equivalent of half the outside award. Others count the entire outside award against loans and work- study, and only lower the institutional grant portion of an aid award if self- help is brought down to zero. Still others count the entire outside award against institutional gift aid. Best advice: always apply for a scholarship, but check with every college and university on your list about their *outside scholarship policy* so you can understand what happens to your need-based financial aid package when you win a merit scholarship.