Applying for College Financial Aid

Many people, especially but not exclusively young adults, want to attend college but are not able to afford tuition, textbooks, and dorm expenses. Let’s face it; college is a huge financial undertaking-something no one takes lightly. Some could turn to relatives or friends, but why burden your loved ones with this extra expense when you can fill out a simple application for Federal Student Aid?

The process for a new student is fairly straightforward, though one could run into confusing areas. We’re going to dispel the mystery of Federal Student Aid, the process of applying, and let you know what to expect.

So, just what is FSA (Federal Student Aid)? Good question. It’s a program through the federal government through which low and middle class students can receive grants and loans to go to the college of their choice. The student applies through their college financial aid office and once an assessment of need is completed, funds are dispersed to the student to cover tuition, textbooks, dorm or apartment rent, and even gas to get to campus.

First, let’s cover the basics. What is the difference between a loan and a grant? Another superb question. You’re on a roll. A loan, as the name implies, is conducted through a lending company and is expected to be repaid within a reasonable amount of time. Usually the lending company (a bank or credit union, etc.) waives payment on your loan as long as you are attending class, but you will have to begin making those payments after six months of graduating. A grant (often called a Pell Grant), on the other hand, is free money given to you by the government without you ever having to pay back a cent. Your financial aid adviser will help you decide what is best and what you will be eligible for with your income level.

Okay, so that’s clear. Now, you’ll want to decide on the college you want to attend. Go ahead. I’ll wait…

Got it? Now, your campus should have a financial aid office or student support services building. Here you will find aid advisers that can help you with the process of enrolling in the programs. But, as a heads-up, you’ll want to know what to expect before walking through that door. Basically, they will go over various programs available to you. Some are state level, and therefore will differ depending on where you live. We’ve already discussed grants and loans available through the government and government-approved lenders, but your adviser may have other programs to offer in addition to these two options.

Then, your adviser will give you a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) to fill out and return. You will need copies of your (or your parents’) most recent tax forms to fill in the income areas of the form and you will need to turn in those copies to the financial aid office once you are done. The form itself is very easy to understand, and you can even fill it out electronically if you prefer at www.fafsa.ed.gov. The application will also ask which schools you wish to have the information sent to, so that makes things even easier for you. Make certain you fill in all areas of the form accurately, as your financial aid adviser (and government aid officers) will review your application thoroughly before approving you for aid.

Once you’ve submitted your application, you will have to wait about three weeks, so fill out your application early so you aren’t caught with classes starting and no money to pay. Your aid adviser will then explain the aid you are approved to receive. In most cases this will be a combination of part grant and part loan, but if you get all grant, then that’s even better for you.

You will be able to use the aid you receive to buy your books and pay and fees necessary and once you’ve done all of this, your school will give you a check for the remainder of the money. You can use this throughout the semester to get to campus and to buy supplies.

As an extra note, you will have to make a PIN number to access your financial aid information online through the above mentioned website, and you may be required by your school to attend loan entrance counseling. Filling out the application doesn’t guarantee that you will receive aid, nor does it guarantee that you will receive enough to cover all of your expenses. Nonetheless, it is a very useful tool for those who wish to attend college but cannot afford it.

Many would not be on campus without this wonderful program.

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