What is College Financial Aid?

Is college in your future, but you don't know how to pay for it? Student financial aid may be the answer you're looking for. Here are some commonly asked questions and answers regarding financial aid for college.

Q: What exactly is financial aid?

A: Financial aid is money given to a college student, usually by the federal or state government, to aid the student in paying for attending college. Students use this financial assistance to pay for tuition, housing, books, and other necessities that are a part of college life.

Q: What are the different types of financial aid available?

A: Financial aid may be awarded in four forms: scholarships, grants, loans, and work study programs.

Scholarships and grants are financial aid awards that do not have to be paid back. Scholarships are usually awarded by private organizations and universities based on merit. Different scholarships require different qualifications. Grants, on the other hand, are awarded based on financial need and are usually awarded by federal funding.

Student loans, like grants, require qualification based on financial need. However, these loans must be paid back with interest. Student loans are the most common form of financial aid used by students.

Work-study programs are a less commonly used option among students, but they can provide tremendous career benefits. In addition to financial assistance, these programs provide valuable work experience and a chance to determine first-hand if the career path you're studying for is truly one you will enjoy.

Q: How do I apply for financial aid?

A: The easiest way to learn more about the application process for student financial aid is to visit your university's financial aid office. There you will be given an application and instructions on how the process works.

When you are ready to apply for grant or loan assistance, you will need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form can usually be attained from your university's financial aid office or by visiting www.fafsa.ed.gov. The FAFSA will ask you questions about your educational plans and your financial situation to determine your eligibility for federal (and state) loans and grants. The information provided in the FAFSA will be used by the U.S. Department of Education to assess your financial need.

After completing the FAFSA application, you can also visit the FAFSA website to check your application status, make changes to your application, and obtain more information.

Q: Who qualifies for student financial aid?

A: To qualify, you must be a United States citizen or legal resident of the United States. If you are a male U.S. citizen, you must be registered with selective service. You must enroll in enough credit hours to be considered a half time student. You can only use financial aid for a degree seeking program and you must be making satisfactory progress toward attaining your degree.

Q: What is the deadline for submitting my application for financial aid?

A: If you plan on attending college in the fall, you'll want to have your application submitted by June 30. Keep in mind, however, that most states have deadlines for submission that are earlier than June 30. You will need to check with the financial aid administrator at the university you plan on attending to find out the deadline for your state. Be advised that some states require submission of the application for the following fall as early as March 1, so you'll want to submit your application early to avoid missing the deadline.

For faster response, submit your FAFSA online. To do this, you will need to acquire a pin number by visiting www.pin.ed.gov

Q: What is considered when determining eligibility for financial aid?

A: Eligibility is determined by taking into account your income and other means of support you receive. Your parents' income may also be a factor in determining whether you qualify for assistance.

Q: How do I determine if my parents' income will be counted in determining my eligibility for financial aid?

A: The FAFSA will consider many students dependent on their parents, even if they are own their own, supporting themselves, and are filing their taxes independent of their parents. Unless you meet one of the following criteria, you are probably considered a dependent for the purposes of financial aid:
You are at least 24 years old.
At the start of the school year, you are going to be enrolled in a masters degree program or higher.
As of the day of filing your FAFSA, you are married.
You are a parent.
You have children or other dependents living with you and receiving their support from you.
You are active in the United States military or are a veteran.
Your parents are no longer living, or you were legally emancipated.

If you do not meet any of the above criteria, you are likely considered a dependent and your parents' income will be considered in determining your eligibility.

Q: Where can I go for more information about student financial aid?

A: For more information or to apply online, visit www.fafsa.ed.gov or see your university's financial aid administrator.

Your Financial Aid Award

All colleges that you sent your FAFSA information to and apply, will send you a financial aid award package in a letter. This will be your chance to check out how your college expenses will be paid for, and, what expenses will not. Check this letter thoroughly. You don't want to make an expensive mistake that may mean the difference between you affording school and not.

Your student aid letter will list all sources of financial aid. Grants and scholarships is what you are shooting for most. Those do not need to be repaid. Many times, colleges will seemingly fund your whole education bill, but using student loans as the bulk. If you are eligible, work-study will also be on there.

Some grants and scholarships may only be one time awards. Some are given each year. Find out if you may be getting less financial aid next year.

It will look like your whole college is paid for. What many students do not realize, is that somewhere there is probably money coming from your pocket or your parents. Most everybody is expected to kick in some money towards their education. Look close to see how much is expected to come from your family's pocket and savings.

Colleges will list your total cost of attending their college. Again, beware. They may leave out many unforeseen expenses, even the cost of books. They truly do not know how much you will spend on books and lab fees. Some colleges will try and give a round number that comes out on the high side. Some don't. The actual cost of attendance may be higher.

Your financial aid letter will not come close to factoring in other expenses that come from attending college. Like a plane ticket home at Christmas. Or moving expenses. Those late night snacks. Parking fees if you drive, as well as car insurance.

You should look at your financial aid award and compare it to your financial situation. Can you comfortably attend college with the package? Does it look like you will need to come up with more money yourself?

Sit down and calculate all costs for the coming school year that you may incur. Does the financial aid letter look good? Do you have enough in savings? Will you need to get a part time job to pay for some college expenses?

Did you apply to more than one college? If so, compare the financial aid awards from each. Determine which one makes it better for your financial situtation. If you really want to attend the college that made a lower financial aid award, ask for more. Many students do not know that they can talk to the financial aid officer and negotiate a better deal. Use the other college's letter to get them to kick in more. When you negotiate, you can explain any financial hardhips that you have incurred.

Above all, be determined to check your financial aid award very carefully. You want to make the best choice for yourself, and don't be afraid to ask for more.



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