07 Apr Financial Aid
You need money for college, plain and simple. You’ve listened to your high school counselor or your friends talk about financial aid, but you just don’t know where to begin. All of the talk about merit scholarships, need-based grants, subsidized loans, unsubsidized loans, FAFSA, and work-study have you feeling completely overwhelmed.
Fortunately, you’re not in the minority. The key to making a good decision about how you will finance your education is to do your research and to apply—you can’t get money that you haven’t asked for.
Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
Here’s a great starting point—filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). If you were to walk into the financial aid office any college or university, you would be directed to complete this form as a first step. By filling out this form, you are applying for federal student aid. The results will help you determine what other aid you should seek. Additionally, most states and schools use the information obtained from the FAFSA to award their financial aid.
- FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) – Everyone should complete this form, which could result in grants or low-interest federal loans.
Free money! Is there any question why you shouldn’t pursue this avenue next? These types of aid do not have to be paid back, so it just makes sense to find and apply for as many of these as you can. Your school’s financial aid office or high school counselor is a good place to begin your search for scholarships and grants, but you can also check with local associations, businesses, and religious organizations as well as research online scholarship databases.
- Grants are need-based awards. The most common grant is the Pell Grant, which is awarded based on the FAFSA.
- Scholarships awarded by a school are generally merit-based. Some types of scholarships include Academic, Athletic, Departmental, and International Student.
- Other scholarships may be awarded by local civic clubs, associations, businesses, or religious organizations.
While free money would be nice, the fact is that not all of us can get it. If you are unable to finance your education with scholarships and grants, or if you still need money for books or living expenses, such as room and board, a student loan may be your next best option. You will have to repay this money, but you can generally defer the payments until you have graduated.
Now you know the basics and have a simplified approach to obtaining financial aid—don’t stop here! Most applications for aid are time-sensitive, so don’t wait any longer. Start by filling out your FAFSA or by contacting the financial aid office at your school.
- Federal – Several types available. Check qualification for these by filling out the FAFSA.
- Private – Apply for a loan through a private lender.
- Short-Term – Usually a small amount of money can be borrowed from an institution or private lender to pay for expenses like books, rent, or food until a student’s financial aid comes in.
- IRAs – You can withdraw from your IRAs for education expenses without incurring an early withdrawal penalty. Find out more at www.irs.gov.
- The ROTC (Reserves Officers Training Corps) program is available at about 600 schools in the nation.
- VA Benefits – Go to www.va.gov for information on federal benefits for veterans and dependents.
- Contact your state’s education department to find out about state-sponsored financial aid programs.
- The IRS allows you to claim one of two educational credits: Hope Tax Credit or Lifetime Learning Tax Credit. Find out more at www.irs.gov.
- AmeriCorps offers assistance in paying for college in exchange for a year of service when you graduate. Find out more at www.americorps.org.
- Federal Work Study – A program that gives students part-time employment to help pay their college expenses.
- Graduate Assistantships – Allows students pursuing a master’s degree to work for tuition reimbursement.
- Job Partnership Act – A program sponsored by the Department of Labor offers tuition assistance to those facing employment obstacles. Find out more at www.doleta.gov.
- Peace Corps – Volunteering can earn partial student loan debt forgiveness. Find out more at www.peacecorps.gov.
- Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) – Earn partial student loan debt forgiveness here as well. Find out more at www.friendsofvista.org.
How to Find Financial Aid for College
Do you want to go to college, but don’t think it’s financially feasible? Whether you’re a recent high school graduate setting career goals, a professional considering an occupation change, or a homemaker looking to re-enter the workforce, you may have more financial options than you thought.
Need-based and Non Need-based Aid
Student financial aid can be divided into two major categories. Need-based aid may be available if your family’s financial resources cannot pay for your post-secondary education. Non need-based aid does not require you to show that you have a financial need; however, this type of aid is awarded based on superior talents, special skills, or academic excellence. Three types of aid fall under each of these categories: grants or scholarships; loans; and work programs.
Grants and Scholarships
Grants and scholarships are awarded as gifts and do not have to be repaid. Grants usually come from state or federal funds and are need-based, while scholarships may come from government or private sources and are primarily non need-based. To find out if you are eligible for a grant or scholarship, you should:
- Complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
- Contact the financial aid office of the college you plan to attend.
- Contact local clubs, associations, or organizations and ask if they give scholarships.
- Contact your state’s grant agency.
- Check with your employer to see if any scholarship opportunities are available.
- Search the internet for scholarship resources. Helpful sites include the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and the National Merit Scholarship Corporation.
A loan may be the way to go if you do not qualify for grants and/or scholarships. You will have to repay loans; however, the interest rates vary based on the type of loan you receive, and the payments and interest on the loan may be deferred until you finish your education. To obtain more information on what types of loans are available to you:
- Complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine your eligibility.
- Contact the financial aid office of the college you plan to attend.
- Research online loan resources.
- Contact a private bank.
If you plan to work while earning your degree, you should:
- Ask about tuition reimbursement through your current employer.
- Contact the financial aid office at the college you plan to attend for information on Reserve Officer Training Corp (ROTC) and Federal Work-Study (FWS).
- Contact the student employment office at the college you plan to attend to learn more about local and on-campus employment opportunities.
There are many avenues available to potential students who need financial assistance. Put yourself well on the way to your dream by contacting your college’s financial aid office today.
How to Apply for Financial Aid
Most potential students qualify for some type of financial aid but have no clue where to begin. The first step is easy—start your search early and apply! Failing to apply is a mistake made by about 25% of undergraduates. You will never know how much aid is at your disposal if you don’t take the initiative to find it.
Obtain Federal Student Aid PIN
You will need this PIN to sign your electronic application for federal student aid or to access your federal student aid records online. Go to www.pin.ed.gov to apply for your Federal Student Aid PIN.
In order to save time and minimize frustrations, collect and organize all of the documents and information that you will need to complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) before begin the application.
Complete the FAFSA
Go to www.fafsa.ed.gov and read the instructions for completing the FAFSA. Make sure you understand the important terms and the process before beginning the application. Once you receive your Student Aid Report (SAR), be sure to check it for errors. Your financial aid office will need this report to determine aid eligibility; however, it is recommended that you visit the aid office as soon as you decide on a school to determine what aid might be available to you.
Visit Financial Aid Office
Go by the financial aid office at your school (or at a nearby campus if you have not yet chosen a school) to find out what additional scholarships are available through the college. These may include departmental scholarships, athletic scholarships, or student organization scholarships.
Search the Internet
Research the internet for scholarship opportunities. While internet resources can make searching for aid much quicker, beware of financial aid scams, which are most commonly found on the internet.
Research Opportunities in Your Community
Remember, local businesses and organizations love to see the community succeed. Many offer scholarships, albeit small, as a way to support the community that supports their business. Contact the businesses, civic clubs, religious organizations, and other associations to inquire about scholarship opportunities. Be assertive—if a scholarship fund is not currently in place, ask if they would consider starting one. You will find that most are not opposed to the idea—they just haven’t given it much thought.
Financial Aid Myths
If you are considering college you may receive financial aid advice (solicited or unsolicited!) from friends, family, or coworkers and never do the research to see how much of it is true. When it comes to getting financial aid for college, remember that you shouldn’t believe everything that you hear. Here are some common misconceptions about financial aid:
I won’t qualify for aid because my family’s income is too high.
Financial aid offices consider many factors when determining a student’s financial aid eligibility, and not all aid is based on financial need. Your family may have more of a financial need that you realized, especially if there are other family members attending college, an aging parent, or home mortgage costs. You could also qualify for merit-based scholarships based on factors like academic excellence, athletic ability, or community service.
I can’t afford to attend more expensive schools.
Do the math: the more expensive the school, the more your financial need increases. Don’t dismiss a school based on the tuition costs. You might qualify for more aid because of that factor.
Paying someone to search for scholarships will help me find more of them.
You should never have to pay for a scholarship search. In fact, if a web site or seminar claims that it will guarantee you a scholarship if you pay them to search, it is probably a financial aid scam. Do the research yourself by going to your financial aid office and by searching online using free scholarship searches.
I have to be a great student, have phenomenal athletic abilities, or be a minority to get aid.
Funds from federal student aid are based on need, not on grades, race, or other abilities.
Applying for aid is too complicated and confusing.
While you will have to do a little work to collect the documents you need to complete the forms, applying for aid is easy because you have resources. There are detailed instructions for completing the FAFSA (Free Application for Student Aid), and your financial aid office should be able to answer any questions you might have.
I have to wait until I’ve been accepted to a school before I can apply for aid.
This simply is not true. In fact, you should begin collecting all the necessary documents for completing the FAFSA prior to January 1 of the year you plan to enroll. You may complete your FAFSA as early as January 1.