What is Financial Aid? How Do I Apply?

The increasing sticker price of college education presents a distressing scenario for cash-strapped students and their families. The Institute for Higher Education Policy says a majority of low-income students could not afford 95% percent of American colleges!

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Thankfully, students today have a wide range of financial aid tools to support their pursuit of higher education. Let us explore financial aid programs—and how you can get help no matter how financially challenging college may seem!

What is Financial Aid?

Financial Aid is a means for students to get financial support and be able to afford college. A student can be financially assisted in terms of tuition and fees, room and board, transportation, and textbook expenses.

Many types of financial aid are available: grants, scholarships, federal or private loans, and work-study arrangements. The sources for these programs include federal and state governments, colleges and universities, private and nonprofit organizations, and company foundations. Eligibility requirements and qualifications are set for the student to comply. The amount of financial aid will vary and depend on the program that the student is qualified for.

Before anything, though, students are assessed based on their and their family’s financial capacity. A set of questionnaires help measure how capable you are to pay for college. Once evaluated—and you are found eligible—financial aid options will be offered. You can select the financial aid program that is most beneficial to you. Sometimes, students also become qualified for more private aid and more scholarships.

How Do I Apply for Financial Aid?

A fundamental step is to fill out the FAFSA form, otherwise known as Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The Department of Education has executed this form to make it easier for colleges and universities to assess the family’s financial capacity for paying the tuition fees.

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Another tool that a student should fill out is the College Scholarship Service’s profile. It is a far more detailed questionnaire that will need more time for completion. The College Scholarship Service form may or may not be required by the school, and is typically a must in private colleges mostly. This form also includes the amount that both the family and student can contribute annually, which is referred to as EFC or Expected Family Contribution. The computation for this amount vary, but a single formula is followed for uniformity purposes.

There is no limit or financial basis as to who can be qualified for financial aid. If a family earns a decent income, but more than one child in the household attends college, the said family can still qualify for need-based aid.

Types of Financial Aid

Basically, two kinds of financial aid are made available to college students: need-based and merit-based. Need-based financial Aid is derived from the result of the FAFSA form that has been submitted and filled out beforehand. Meanwhile, merit-based financial aid is usually awarded by private institutions, colleges, foundations, and private organizations. It takes into account the applicant’s exceptional talent, skill, athletic capacity, and academic performance

According to the U.S. Department of Education, most students qualify for federal aid, such as loans, grants, and work-study programs:

Grants

Grants do not need to be repaid—and this is probably the best advantage of this federal aid program over the others. Grants that are need-based, merit-based, or student-specific are offered by the federal or state government and the universities. As the most common type of grant, the Pell Grant is awarded to first-year undergraduate students.

Loans

The federal government and certain private banks and loan companies offer student loans with low interest and easy payment terms. It is payable either students attend college or right after they graduate. The government usually offers a fixed interest rate, which is why many prefer it over private student loans.

Work-Study Program

Work-study programs don’t always apply to students seeking financial aid. They are also for students who, following an assessment of the information on their FAFSA, can prove the financial need and qualified to work part-time and study at the same time. Working students usually start at $7.25 per hour and should comply with the minimum age required by federal law. Working students’ salary rates are set to help pay for a chunk of their college expenses.

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Although it gives a promising assurance for you to be eligible for federal student aids, it won’t hurt to take your financial aid applications up a notch.

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One of the best tricks that work is focusing on your qualifications instead of relying solely on need-based financial aid programs. Remember that merit-based financial aid is typically ideal if you are a student with an outstanding academic or athletic track record!

The financial aid application process can take a while more than you expect. It may require a great deal of effort and patience from you. However, if you persevere and keep up carefully with all the requirements, you can start your college journey with the support of financial aid.