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Are College Financial Aid Consultants Worth It?

written by: Melanie•edited by: Laurie Patsalides•updated: 5/14/2010

College financial aid consultants have changed the financial aid game. Learn how to decide whether a college financial aid professional can help you to squeeze more out of the financial aid system.

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    Help Through the Financial Aid Maze

    Until the 1980s, applying for college financial aid was fairly simple. Either you didn't apply at all and had parents who paid, you picked up a part-time or full-time job to supplement partial aid, or you qualified for full aid and made up the difference with loans.

    Nowawdays, there's a whole new breed of college professional: the college financial aid consultant. These financial aid consultants aren't the professionals who work in your college's bursar's office, or the financial aid office, helping you with bills and such. These are private consultants you can hire to get a better financial aid package.

    The average person epproaches financial aid from a complete beginner's standpoint if they're the first person in their family to go to college, or a parent sending their first kid off the university. You complete the FAFSA--the Free Application for Federal Student Assistance--and then that's it, right? Just wait for results and act accordingly.

    But that's not "it"--professional college financial aid consultants approach the system from a completely different standpoint.

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    Can College Financial Aid Consultants Find Money For You?

    Private consultants typically meet with you during the student's 10th grade year. The PSAT--the pre-SAT--is a huge deciding factor in the National Merit Scholar competition. Scoring a high enough number on the PSAT can open the door to "full rides" (complete scholarships) to many schools. A consultant will work with you to determine whether staudents have a shot at this scholarship, and others.

    The consultant will go over financial aid strategies, like where to put college funds or money so that you maximize grant opportunities. The college financial aid professional will also pore over significant scholarship listings, to catch any chances for free college money that you might not know about.

    If you have a specific ability, such as sports, music, or speech, the consultant's skills come in just at the end of your journey. The consultant can act as an 'agent" for you, fielding offers for money from different colleges, and even pitting schools against each other. Like Private University, but State College is offering $3,000 more in aid? The consultant will call Private University and let them know that another $3,000 could make the difference. And many schools will comply--making the consultant's fees well worth your while.

    Is a consultant right for you? Ask your guidance counselor for more information and references.