Landing free money for college by applying for scholarships and grants is worth the time and effort, and applying for financial aid is just as important. With adequate research, you will learn how to make college costs manageable through the many options offered by your financial aid package.
Start by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Your FAFSA will tell you what financial aid you qualify for, including campus-based aid, low-interest student loans, scholarships, federal grants, and state grants. Most financial aid packages will offer some amount of “free money” especially if you demonstrate financial need. Since scholarships and grants do not require repayment, exhaust these options before you start applying for loans. The more you research now, the less overwhelming your student loan debt will be post-graduation.
Browse through our resources for tips on funding your education. We have information about campus-based programs you could be eligible for, where to find the FAFSA how to fill out the FASFA, and where else to find helpful information. Do not let unanswered questions prevent you from finding funding to pay for your college education.
Funding your education will be a different experience depending on the college you choose to attend post-graduation. While you're applying to the colleges on your list, evaluate your financial aid options at each school. Not every college will have a fully-funded federal aid program, as it is up to the college to decide whether to participate in many federal grant programs. If the schools you're eyeing do not offer many scholarships and grants consider alternate options. A little research and caution will go a long way toward reducing your student debt totals.
The federal funding you will be eligible for will go toward paying for your college's tuition and fees, books, and living expenses. The FAFSA application and resulting Student Aid Report (SAR) you receive will take all costs into consideration before telling you what scholarships, grants, federal work-study, and student loans you qualify for. Compare your award letters before you make a decision on which school to attend. Once you've made a decision, let the school know whether or not you are accepting or declining the awards.
Your first step will be filling out the FAFSA, which will tell you the type aid you'll be receiving from each school you've applied to. After your information has been evaluated the government determines how much aid you are eligible to receive, and where the aid will come from. The FAFSA can be completed online or on paper. The FAFSA online application is processed faster, which allows more time to organize and evaluate your finances.
Your eligibility for certain financial aid will be determined by the results of your FAFSA and an analysis of your SAR by your intended college's financial aid administrator. Your financial aid administrator will be the best source of information if you have questions specific to your aid package or about a campus-based award program. While your school's financial aid office will keep you updated, still conduct your own research, especially if you plan to attend a large school. Larger universities offer many award programs but have limited financial aid administrators.
Always plan to fill out your FAFSA, even if it's a renewal FAFSA, as soon as it’s made available to you. While the application is not due until July 1, much of the campus-based aid has been allocated to those who filed for financial aid well before that date. Federal aid programs have a set annual total of funding that is disbursed to each school as well, so apply early to receive optimal funding. Do not miss out on funding opportunities because you missed a due date.
Federal Pell Grants are the most popular federal grant program. Your eligibility is determined based on the results of your FAFSA, and you must prove a high level of financial need to be considered for the award. While the grants are typically given to undergraduate students, those pursuing certain post-graduate teaching programs are also eligible. Pell Grants are the foundation of financial aid, and often determine your eligibility for other federal grant programs like the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) and the Academic Competitiveness Grant (ACG).
Campus-based aid programs are financial aid programs that are administered directly by the financial aid office of your intended college. Federal programs such as the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG), Federal Perkins Loan, and Federal Work-Study programs are considered campus-based aid programs because those awards are disbursed by college financial aid administrators, and schools must choose to participate in these programs. Your eligibility for this funding will be determined by the results of your FAFSA. If you find on your SAR that the above source of aid aren't listed, it could be because your college of choice does not participate in those programs.
Federal Stafford Loans are the most popular student loans guaranteed by the federal government because of low interest rates and flexible repayment options. Schools may participate in the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan (Direct Loan Program). The loan may be subsidized or unsubsidized. Subsidized loans are awarded based on financial need, and the government pays the interest while the student is in school, in deferment, and during the six month grace period before repayment begins. Unsubsidized loans are not awarded based on income, and the borrower is responsible for any interest acquired while in school, deferment, and during the grace period before repayment begins.
The Federal Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students (PLUS) is taken out by the parents of dependent students. This option, while not as popular as Federal Stafford Loans, is still a low-interest option for those who must take out student loans while funding their college education. PLUS loans are guaranteed by the federal government, and schools that participate in the Direct Loan Program offer PLUS Loans. If your parents are borrowing for you, they must have an acceptable credit history to be eligible for the loan.
While scholarships and grants are the ideal sources of funding, many college students will need to borrow some amount to cover their college costs. There are low-interest loans available for students. Be sure to understand how you will be repaying your loan before borrowing. If you are unable to start paying loans back immediately after graduation, there are loan deferment options.
Reducing the cost of school will take time and sacrifice. Some cost effective options are working while in school or applying to lower-cost colleges such as community college or state universities. If you still need to borrow, do your research on tax credits and loan forgiveness programs because it will help make your student debt manageable.
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