Paying for college is often at the top of the list of worries for families, and with good reason. Tuition costs continue to rise in the United States. There are, however, many options available to students and their families to make paying for college a reality.
Federal student aid provides money for expenses such as tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, and transportation. There are four categories of aid:
- Grants –money that does not require repayment and is based on a student’s financial need
- Scholarships – money that does not require repayment and is based on a student’s academic achievements
- Work Study – money earned through student employment on or near campus
- Loans – money that must be repaid with interest
To qualify for federal aid, a student must:
Be a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen,
Have a valid Social Security number, and
Show qualification to obtain a post-secondary education by having a high school diploma or GED; pass an approved ability-to-benefit test; meet other federally approved standards established by your state; or complete a high school education in a homeschool setting approved under state law.
Be sure to:
Understand federal financial aid. Use the federal student aid checklist provided by the U.S. government to keep track of aid requirements and deadlines.
Understand your options. Use the FAFSA4caster to estimate your eligibility for federal student aid.
Plan for applying for financial aid. Before completing the application for financial aid, use this worksheet to help determine the information and documents necessary for completion and to see the questions as they are stated on the official application.
Apply for financial aid. Students complete the Free Application for Federal Student each year to apply for federal aid. Over 90% of the FAFSA applications are submitted online; go to www.fafsa.ed.gov beginning January 1 each year.
Understanding the Student Aid Report (SAR). About four weeks after submitting the FAFSA (or earlier if submitted online), you’ll receive a SAR which identifies your Expected Family Contribution. Review it carefully and see if additional information or corrections are needed, and follow instructions for what is required of you to proceed. Don’t forget to make copies of everything for your own records.
Understanding the Award Letter. A college sends you an award letter after it figures out how much financial aid you qualify for. You can accept the entire award, none of the award, or part of it. If you have been accepted to multiple schools, you can compare the award letters that each might send you, as they could vary.
(See also 10 Things to do when Applying for Financial Aid.)
This information is meant to help guide you in the right direction and is NOT meant to take the place to talking to your financial aid counselor. Please also learn more about the Federal Student Aid Programs at (800)-4-FED-AID or www.fafsa.ed.gov for the latest and most accurate information.