Understanding Financial Aid
Scholarships & Financial Aid
As you probably know, college tuition has been rising steeply for the last several decades. The price of education can present a significant challenge to many ordinary families, and you may have worries about how to pay for tuition as well as other costs associated with colleges such as textbooks, room and board, and personal expenses. Luckily there are plenty of ways to get financial aid. While financial aid will generally not eliminate all the expenses, it can lower them, helping you to plan more realistically for your future.
Financial aid includes money from many sources, such as federal loans and grants, private scholarships, work-study programs, and institutional aid from your school. Financial aid from the US government can only be distributed to American students and permanent residents called “eligible noncitizens”. International students can be eligible for private grants, institutional scholarships, and merit-based financial aid programs. If you are an international student, you can look into need-based financial aid from your college–it is not very common, but some colleges offer a reduction in tuition cost or non-federally funded work-study programs to international students in special cases.
For domestic students to qualify for federal aid, you will need to fill out the FAFSA, which stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The FAFSA is made available October 1, and you should complete it online as soon as possible. The final submission deadline varies by state, so you should make sure to do your research. This is a form that factors in information such as your family’s tax information, income, and assets to determine how much federal aid you are eligible for. After you fill out the FAFSA, you will be sent a SAR, or Student Aid Report, which is a document that provides information on your aid eligibility. Hopefully you will learn that you are eligible for need-based aid, but unfortunately, this is not always the case. According to the Edvisors Network, about half of students who fill out the FAFSA don’t qualify for any federal grants. Keep reading to the end of this article, which will discuss non-federal aid.
There are several forms of federal aid that you might receive. The first category is need-based grants. Grants are basically just free money; Unlike loans, you will not need to pay back grants. It is best to avoid loans, as this is the one type of financial aid that you will eventually need to pay back with interest. That being said, sometimes taking out loans is unavoidable. If so, you should choose a plan with the lowest interest rate possible, as this will help you keep your debt as low as you can. Work-study programs will allow you to be employed by your school and then use the money you earn for your education. Like federal loans and grants, you will qualify for work-study by filling out the FAFSA.
Besides federal aid, you will also want to make sure you are eligible for institutional aid, or money given by your school. This might be merit-based, given to you on the basis of your grades or test scores. You might also need to fill out a CSS Profile, or the College Scholarship Service Profile. It is administered by the College Board and used by over 400 colleges. Like the FAFSA, the CSS Profile will examine your family’s financial situation to determine how much aid you can receive. Some schools actually require students to fill it out, so you should make sure you know the guidelines that apply to you. The CSS Profile will be made available around October 1; although different schools might have different deadlines to turn it in, like the FAFSA you should complete the CSS Profile as soon as you can. Unlike the FAFSA, the CSS Profile does cost money to file. It is $25 for your first college application, and then an another $16 for each additional college.
The last category of financial aid is private scholarships. These are awarded by nonprofits or companies, and all have their own deadlines and requirements. You should do plenty of research because you might be eligible for a scholarship based on your parent’s employer, an extracurricular activity, or a local organization in your area. These are generally merit-based and may require you to write an essay or produce letters of recommendation.
There are many great resources for information on scholarships. Leadovate should be your first stop for free advice! We are experts who have placed students in many full-ride, half-ride, and other competitive financial aid packages. If you’d like to do some research on your own, here are a few resources:
Now that you’re thinking about applying for financial aid, you might have some questions or concerns. Once you are accepted to a school, you will probably be assigned an individual financial aid officer. This person is your contact at the institution and will be familiar with all the details of your financial circumstances. You must let this person know if anything in your family’s situation changes—such as the loss of a job or assets—as well as any details such as a change in address. It is important to be in touch with your school’s financial aid office and reach out with any questions you have. It is always preferable to ask your financial aid officer a “silly” question than make a mistake and risk delaying your paperwork or decreasing your financial aid award.