KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Merit has earned freshman Holly Morris a virtually free ride for her nursing education at the University of Tennessee.
"I have the Hope scholarship,a Pell grant and something goes along with that," she says.
"I also got a scholarship from UT since I got a 26 or higher on my ACT (American College Test)
But what if you didn't graduate as the valedictorian of your high school class?
"You have that self-infliction of hey, I might not be smart
enough, or rich enough, for grant money," says Josh Parant, a UT Senior majoring in Public Administration.
Not true, according to Assistant Provost Richard Bayer, director of Enrollment Services.
"Middle-class parents need to fill out that FAFSA form," he says.
FAFSA stands for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
The filing deadline is March 1 (Monday).
"It's the guiding document that tells us whether a student has need, Bayer says.
Morris couldn't have qualified for the HOPE Lottery merit scholarship without it.
HOPE pays $4,000 a year towards tuition at a 4-year institution in Tennessee; $2,000 for a two-year institution. Students qualify if they
earn at least a 21 on the ACT (920 composite score on the Scholastic Aptitude Test, or SAT) and maintain at least a 3.0 (B) average.
FAFSA also is required for Pledge and Promise scholarships.
"The pledge is a scholarship that targets and focused on low-income students," Bayer says.
To qualify, your family income can be no higher than $36,000 annually. The awards are de-facto 'full rides' cover all of UT's costs that any other grants fail to cover. Pledge scholarships require that you maintain a 2.0 (C) grade point average.
'Promise' scholarships are targeted toward graduates of Tennessee's 35 so-called 'at risk' high schools. 'At risk' is defined as a school whose student body, collectively, fails to meet state standards, or a school which, historically, has sent few students on to college.
'Promise' awards cover tuition and books, regardless of your family income.
But what if the college of your choice isn't UT, nor even within Tennessee?
"There's so many millions of financial aid resources on the internet,"Parant says.
"But you never can pull that information out--unless you know
to search for that."
Parant, and UT's provost's office, recommend you start researching aid options for your favorite schools, the summer following your junior year in high school.
"I think your list should be narrowed to 5 or 7 schools," Bayer says.
Parant is even more blunt.
"If I had known what I know now, and my parents had known, I wouldn't be a non-traditional student today."