7 Top Financial Tips From College Gurl

This financial aid professional provides tips to keep you informed

Jessica Brown, founder and CEO of College Gurl, is the real deal.

I was delighted to meet the Howard University graduate at the Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Summit in Miami Beach, where we chatted about her work—calling, really—to educate students and families about the intricacies of paying for college without drowning in debt.

This 26 year-old powerhouse is deeply committed to college finance education. We talked earlier today—here is an edited version of our conversation.

  1. Ditch the idea of the expensive dream school. “Don’t worry if your dream school isn’t financially feasible,” College Gurl says. “The same professors at your dream school are teaching at lower priced schools. You can get a quality education anywhere. Education is what you make it.”
  2. Review your annual income. “Do an annual review of your bank accounts, monthly expenses, personal financial goals (saving for a house or car, saving for retirement, developing a perfect credit score). That gives you a blueprint of where you—or your parents—stand financially.”
  3. Complete the FAFSA as soon as possible. “The financial aid awarding process is first come, first served. If you’re completing your FAFSA in May and going to school in August—that’s pretty late. Does the school have grant money? Yes, but the school has already exhausted that funding.”
  4. Read the fine print. “When you receive your award package, review all the terms and conditions of awards and loans. To qualify to receive financial aid from the federal government, you have to maintain a certain GPA every year. Also, course withdrawals work against you, because they affect your program completion ratio.”
  5. You will not get aid if you’re not making satisfactory academic progress. “You can’t have attempted 60 credits and earned 15. Accepting the award is understanding what you need to do to keep accepting the aid payout. You can appeal to have the aid reinstated, but there is a limited number of appeals you can make.”
  6. There are aggregate limits to federal aid. “For dependent students (typically those under age 24 or who answer ‘no’ to questions 46–58 on the FAFSA), the lifetime federal loan amount is $31,000. For independent students, it’s $57,500. Graduate students can receive up to $138,500—but that amount includes all federal loans received for undergraduate study.”
  7. Don’t borrow more than you need. “You will be responsible for paying this money back. Before taking out a loan, use the repayment estimator on studentloans.gov. Don’t use so-called loan refunds to fund lifestyle rather than educational expenses.”

College Gurl will be writing regularly for BE Smart, so look for her insightful posts soon! For more information, visit www.collegegurl.com.