TODAY   |  March 18, 2014

How to track down free money for college

Princeton Review’s Rob Franek and Jacques Steinberg of Say Yes to Education visit TODAY to offer advice on how to land free money for college through scholarships and financial aid.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> woods.

>> that is your latest weather. you call it a grant, a scholarship, no matter what you call it. it's free money . with the price of college skyrocketing, pressure's on to get that cash. according to a new survey by the princeton review , 89% of college applicants and parents say financial aid is very necessary.

>> even more so. and here to help you find that free money , senior vice president at the princeton review and jack steinberg senior vice president of say yes to education. gentlemen, good morning.

>> good to see you both.

>> first up, important to understand, merit-based scholarship and how it differs from the need-based scholarship. do you want to explain the difference?

>> sure. merit based is based specifically on how well you do in high school , s.a.t., act, and the standardized tests . the easiest thing in high school is to do well in high school , do well on standardized tests , unlocks admission as well as financial aid dollars. next bucket is based on financial needs. how much money can your student and families count on from the government and just pay for college.

>> the next part of this is for parents to apply for that fasfa application.

>> right. two key forms. free application for federal student aid , the fasfa and the css student profile on the college board , the folks that bring you the s.a.t. they are the foundation of every application for this aid in terms of knowing what you're going to be able to get. and going to take a few hours to fill out, sort of like a tax return in the case of the fasfa , but absolutely worth it. everybody should fill it out.

>> worth every penny. so there's three different bucket where is the money should come from, government, private organizations and colleges themselves. let's go through first from the colleges. how do you qualify? and how much are the colleges generally giving?

>> it's a huge bucket of money from college. $40 billion that colleges are underwriting for students directly. as we're saying before, comes from how well you did in high school , did you challenge yourself in high school , how well you did in standardized exams. that's 40% of what students can count on. next is the government, about 50% of what students can count on. and that will be pell grants , cap money for specific states. and the last part, the smallest bucket are those private scholarships. less than 10% of what students could count on for award packages. those smaller private scholarships that get a lot of lift but really are small dollars when you start to think about it.

>> okay. so how much do you really -- when you're really trying to figure this out, can you count on the college itself to give you?

>> well, it really depends, we were on "today" a couple weeks ago talking about best value colleges. $30,000, $40,000 in merit-based money, those schools have deep pockets. the truth is, it does fluctuate from school to school. so does the price tag, but there are schools out there that don't make you mortgage out your future.

>> kids getting their letters of acceptance. what's the first things they do? do they apply for the fasfa ? what else?

>> definitely, there's great websites. there's a new site called, and, of course, in addition to all the princeton review websites.

>> does it make a difference as to how early you apply for this?

>> some states require that you fill out the fasfa in january and february. but it varies state by state. but not too late, for sure, for many states.

>> unfortunately, as with all things, there are a lot of services out there that you pay for they promise will help you find scholarships. is it ever worth paying a service to help you in the process?

>> i mean, parents and students should be really wary of anybody that wants to charge you for the privilege of helping you fill out the fasfa . you've got to be skeptical. you've got to read that fine print. make sure if you're going to turn over personal information that you know why you're doing that.

>> i've got scholarship money going to school. but i also got a job. you know, going to school. there are other ways that you can augment that scholarship.

>> absolutely. and part of it will come from the fasfa form for student work study programs if you're an r.a., there's dollars to be out there to be had. the thing is, after you're a freshman in college, about $4,200, the government starts to tax at about a 70% rate giving that back to the college. just to be wary there's money out there to be had.

>> i was an r.a. in my dorm and saved my parents money on the dorm.

>> absolutely.

>> good deal.

>> great information, thank you, both.