Funding your education entirely with scholarship money is a great goal, but it is not likely, especially with housing and other living expenses. However there are student financial aid options that exist beyond scholarships and student loans and learning about student financial aid in advance could save thousands in student loan debt.
Research financial aid before the federal student financial aid for college January 1. Read about the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, FAFSA. Completing the FAFSA on the Web is necessary to qualify for need-based student financial aid, including scholarships. The Department of Education offers a tool called FAFSA4caster which estimates your expected family contribution and what financial aid you can expect before application deadlines.
Keep up-to-date on changes in financial aid. For example, the Department of Education recently launched three new grant programs to supplement Federal Pell Grants for specific groups of students. The Academic Competitiveness Grant (ACG), the SMART grant, and the TEACH grant are all awarded to FAFSA filers based on financial need and additional criteria. Keep especially ahead of the ACG because the criteria must be met early on in high school. Just like scholarships, investigating financial aid options early increases your chances of qualifying for more financial aid.
Be aware of your state’s priority deadline for the FAFSA, in addition to scholarship and other application deadlines. Certain forms of student financial aid, including state grants, low-interest Federal Perkins Loans, and other campus-based programs, have limited funding and are given out first-come, first-serve. To get the best federal student financial aid package possible, apply early. Most private colleges also require a CSS profile to award institutional aid.
Federal aid is constant, but institutional aid varies from college to college. For example, institutional aid amounts from state universities are different from aid at private schools. You might academic scholarship, a need-based grant, and a more generous federal aid package at one school, while another school will make you pay entirely in loans. Conduct a college search, in addition to searching for available scholarships and learning about federal student financial aid for college. Apply for all available financial aid programs at each school to maximize your financial aid opportunity.
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