The financial aid process can be daunting. Without reliable and valuable advising from a guidance counselor, family member, or experienced professional, it may be difficult to know where to begin. Fortunately, we are here to help you. With a little research and introduction to the basics, you will be able to navigate the most obscure financial aid acronyms with ease./HTMLCHUNK_4/
Always start out with the Free Application for Student Aid, or most commonly known as FAFSA. Once your application has been processed, you will know how much free money you qualify for though federal assistance programs and grants in terms of federal loans, and how much of your package is supplemented through private lending agencies. The process is the same for graduate students; although you may not be eligible for all the programs available to undergraduates, including Federal Pell Grants, a free government gift up to $5,775.
Once that is completed, begin weighing your options and look for ways to cut your college costs. Scholarships are an excellent source of financial aid and with early application, you will be able to maximize financial aid package. Below, you’ll find more information and tips on navigating the financial aid process, including articles on the latest news from the ever-changing financial aid industry.
The best way to supplement your financial aid package is to apply for and win college scholarships. While it will take some initiative, research, and time, the payoff is well worth it once you can minimize student loan debt. You need not be a star athlete or valedictorian to land scholarships. Many scholarships are based on characteristics such as need, community service and your intended field of study. If you search deeper, you’ll find a variety of awards based on more specific characteristics. Criteria that highlights your unique attributes could be what lands you a generous college scholarship. You probably qualify for more scholarships than you would assume, so conduct a free scholarship search or browse through our site to see awards you may be eligible for and start earning money for higher education.
If you are fortunate enough, your parents may have saved for your transfer from high school to a college with good saving options. From 529 Plans, which vary by state but offer significant tax savings over taxable accounts, to Coverdell Accounts, which are optimal for families who don’t want to invest more than $2,000 per year, every parent should be able to find a college savings plans that meet their budgets and needs. For families unsure of where to begin or how much they should strive to save, a good start is estimating how much college costs using a college financial aid calculator. It is reasonable to start with a conservative number, as some of the college savings plans come with stipulations where funds must be used for college expenses; this could hurt parents whose children don’t end up going to college or go for a low-cost option, like community college.
Federal aid, which is subject to change based on government funding levels, comes in the form of federal grant programs, federal student loans and federal work-study programs. Federal aid eligibility guidelines for FAFSA are available online for quick application and quicker processing, starting January 1 of every year. Unless you plan on paying for your college expenses out-of-pocket or through your parents’ college savings account, AFSA will answer the majority of your questions, determine how much funding you can receive, and which federal funding programs you qualify for. Worst case scenario, you may find that you’re only eligible for Stafford Loans; although they are not as desirable as grants, they have lower interest rates than any private loan.
A little bit of research will not only help you to understand financial aid information better, but help dispel popular misconceptions about the process. Many students believe they are ineligible for most scholarships, or that applying is tedious and futile. Truthfully, the financial aid process is one of the most important if not the most important step you will take in the college application process. More than $130 billion is awarded to college-bound students annually, and while it certainly helps to supplement your application with an impressive academic record, much of the funding is also needs-based or isn't as concerned with GPA or course work. Once you’ve filled out your FAFSA, conduct a free scholarship search to find awards you were unaware of, and pad your financial aid package with as much free money from scholarships and grants.
The optimal way to navigate the financial aid process is conducting thorough research. Luckily, we’ve done it for you, and will continue to update our site with the latest news on financial aid changes that could affect how much you can receive from the government. Check out our links for updated financial aid news to determine what higher education institutions are doing to affect students’ financial aid packages. Similarly, keep track of what moves the government is making that will make it easier – or harder – for you to take out loans, get awarded grants, and pay for college.
While college is anticipated to be one of the most rewarding years in a student’s life, you do not want to be overburdened with high monthly payments post-graduation, which may take out high portions from your salary. Or worse yet, you could be forced to default on payments that would ruin or damage your credit score. Find money for college by educating yourself on the available options and taking advantage of the millions of dollars being awarded to college-bound high school students annually. And if you are faced with a higher tuition bill than anticipated, consider your options to cut your college costs.
Last Edited: August 2015
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