Getting by with a little help from the government
Financial aid is the name given to the funding that college students receive from various sources to help pay for tuition and other costs associated with post-secondary education. There are four main types of financial aid: student loans, scholarships, grants and work-study.
Over 75 percent of college students receive some form of financial aid. Over 50 percent of all financial aid, or about $80 billion, comes from the federal government. State governments, private organizations and colleges account for the rest.
To be eligible for financial aid, you must:
- Be a U.S. citizen or an eligible non-citizen.
- Be enrolled in a degree or certificate program.
- Meet academic standards in terms of GPA.
- Not be in default on a federal loan.
- Not owe a refund on a federal grant.
The Application Process
The financial aid application process must be repeated every academic year if you want to maintain your eligibility to receive aid. The following steps should be completed, in order:
- Search for scholarships, grants and work-studies. These no-cost forms of financial aid don’t have to be paid back, so they are better than a loan.
- Fill out and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). For information on completing the FAFSA, see below.
- Receive your Student Aid Report (SAR) from the government and find out your financial aid eligibility.
- Receive your award letter from your college and find out what financial aid package you have been offered, including federal, state, institutional and private funds. If you have not yet decided which college to attend, compare the award letters from each college.
- Apply for student loans.
Completing the FAFSA
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is the starting point for most forms of financial aid. If you wish to be considered for federal student loans, grants and work-study, it is vital that you submit a FAFSA. The information you provide allows the government to evaluate your family’s financial standing and determine your eligibility for aid.
Though FAFSA submission deadlines may vary from state to state, it is wise to always submit your forms as soon after the January 1 cutoff as possible. Make all efforts to submit no later than March 1. This will increase your chance of receiving aid.
The FAFSA is now available to be completed on the Internet. Visit www.fafsa.ed.gov for more information.