Much of the financial aid you’ll receive and find that you’re eligible for will be the result of your Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Unless you plan on paying for your college expenses out-of-pocket or through your parents’ college savings accounts, the FAFSA will answer most of your questions about how much funding you’ll be receiving and which federal aid programs you qualify for. The Department of Education starts accepting the FAFSA January 1st of each year, and completing the FAFSA online will speed up processing and leave less time for you to worry about how much financial aid you’ll be receiving. Once your application is processed, you’ll receive a Student Aid Report back that will show you the FAFSA-based funding you’re eligible for. The college funding determined by the FAFSA will include Federal Pell Grants and other need-based grants, Stafford Loans, PLUS Loans, and some versions of campus-based aid such as work-study program opportunities and the Federal Perkins Loan program.
Grants – and scholarships – are an ideal source of funding, as they don’t need to be repaid. While they are competitive and often require minimum academic standards, their primary focus is supplementing the financial aid packages of those students with the highest need. The FAFSA-based grants you may be eligible for are the Federal Pell Grant, the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FESOG), Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant, and, for future educators, the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant Program. Those who qualify for the Pell Grant may also be eligible to receive a Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG), which is distributed by the college and considered college-based funding.
Pell Grants are usually awarded to undergraduates who have not yet earned a bachelor’s or a professional degree. The maximum award can change yearly and depends on program funding – the maximum award is $5,775 – and the total you receive will be based criteria such as: financial need, cost of attendance, full or part-time status, and plans to attend for a full academic year or less. Federal Pell Grants are only available for 12 semesters (roughly six years). The FSEOG is awarded to undergraduate students who have exceptional financial need and have not earned a bachelor's or graduate degree. Federal Pell grant recipients receive priority for the FSEOG, but not all colleges participate in the program. FSEOG funds depend on availability at the college and the current annual award is up to $4,000. The TEACH grant provides up to $4,000 per year for students who plan on teaching in high-need fields in and in public or private elementary or secondary schools that serve students from low-income families. Recipients of the TEACH grant must agree to service, for a minimum of four years (within eight years of completing academic program), as a full-time teacher in a higher-need field in a school or educational service agency that serves low-income students. Failure to complete the teaching service commitment will result in the grant being converted to a Direct Subsidized Loan that must be repaid. Finally, the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant is for students whose parent or guardian was a member of the U.S. armed forces and died as a result of performing military duty in Iraq or Afghanistan after the events of 9/11. This annual award grants up to $5,311.71 and applicants must be less than 24 years old and ineligible for a Federal Pell Grant due only to having less financial need than is required to receive Pell Grants. Many students know little about many of the grant opportunities mentioned above outside the Federal Pell Grant, so make sure you know your options and are proactive in pursuing grant funding you feel that you’re eligible for.
To qualify for federal student loans, you'll need to fill out your FAFSA. FAFSA-based student loans include the Federal Stafford Student Loan and the Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students, or PLUS Loan. Federal Perkins Loans are considered college-based funding options as your intended college will act as your lender, but you'll still need to fill out a FAFSA to qualify for those.
Federal Stafford Loans are the most popular student loans out there, and are available to both undergraduate and graduate students. Schools that participate in the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program or in the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan (Direct Loan) Program, or both, offer Stafford Loans. Subsidized Stafford Loans are awarded on the basis of financial need and the U.S. Department of Education pays the interest; unsubsidized Stafford Loans are not related to income, but your estimated cost of attendance and financial aid you’ve already been awarded. PLUS Loans are, you guessed it, taken out by your parents, who must not have an adverse credit history. The maximum loan amount is the student's cost of attendance (determind by the school) minus any other financial aid received. Schools that participate in the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program or in the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan (Direct Loan) Program offer the low-interest PLUS Loans. Browse through our site for more information about student loans, as if you need significantly more aid than you’ve received from federal student loans, grants and scholarships, you do have other options as far as private lenders and alternative sources of aid.