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Student Financial Aid

While funding your education entirely with scholarship money is an excellent goal, it often proves difficult, especially when housing and other living expenses are thrown into the mix. However, many people are unaware of the student financial aid options that exist beyond scholarships and student loans. Learning about student financial aid in advance of actually arriving on campus can save you hassle, heartache, and student loan debt.

Do Your Research

While you can’t actually apply for federal student financial aid for college until January 1 of your senior year of high school, you can take some time to learn about financial aid options well before then. The first thing you should do is read up on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Completing a FAFSA on the Web is necessary to qualify for most need-based student financial aid, including a number of scholarship opportunities. The Department of Education even offers a tool called FAFSA4caster which allows you to get an idea of you expected family contribution and the federal student financial aid you can expect to receive well in advance of application deadlines.

Also, make sure to stay abreast of changes in financial aid. For example, the Department of Education has launched three new grant programs in recent years to supplement Federal Pell Grants for specific groups of students. The Academic Competitiveness Grant, the SMART grant, and the TEACH grant are all awarded to FAFSA filers based on financial need and additional criteria. The ACG, especially, has requirements that need to be met during your high school career. Just like with scholarships, investigating other student financial aid options early can increase your chances of qualifying when the time comes to apply.

Apply Early

Be aware of your state’s priority deadline for FAFSA completion, in addition to scholarship deadlines and other application due dates. Certain forms of student financial aid, including state grants, low-interest Federal Perkins Loans, and other campus-based programs, have limited funding and are available only to the earliest applicants who qualify. You’ll get the best federal student financial aid package possible if you apply well in advance of deadlines. Many private colleges also require a CSS profile, which asks for slightly different information and is used in awarding institutional aid.

Explore Every Option

While your federal financial aid likely won’t vary wildly from college to college, your overall student financial aid package could be a different story. Especially at private colleges, but even at state universities, the institutional student financial aid you receive at each school can be worlds apart. You might land an academic scholarship, a need-based grant, and perhaps a more generous federal aid package at one school, while another might decide that you’re paying your entire way in student loans. Conduct a thorough college search, in addition to searching for available scholarships and learning about federal student financial aid for college, and make sure to apply for all available financial aid programs at each school. While maximizing your student financial aid options does involve work, it can really pay off in the end.

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