Even if you saved all of the babysitting money you earned from the time you were 12, all of the tips you accrued delivering pizzas in high school, and every single check from every birthday card you have ever received, chances are, you’d still come up short when trying to pay your college tuition. Unfortunately, college is expensive even though it’s a critical step in advancing personally and professionally. Fortunately, there are ways for students to mitigate expenses related to higher education through college financial aid. The FAFSA, or Free Application For Student Financial Aid is the universal starting point in the Unites States when it comes to determining federal student aid eligibility. You can complete the application online by creating a PIN for electronic signing and document retrieval. The following information and documents are needed to fill out a FASFA:
- Social Security Number
- Driver’s license
- Previous year’s records of money earned
- Income Tax Returns from the previous year
- Parents’ federal income tax return (For dependent students)
- Untaxed income records (Ex.) Social Security, welfare, veterans benefit records)
- Current bank statements
- Investment records
- Your alien registration or permanent resident card (if not born in the U.S.)
Once you file your FAFSA form, you will have a better understanding of what types of financial aid you qualify for at the federal level. There are various forms of financial aid available, aside from money you qualify for by completing your FAFSA form. The most popular being scholarships, grants, student loans and work-study programs.
Scholarships are a form of financial aid awarded to help ease the financial burden of college, though it often takes good old-fashioned hard work to land a substantial amount of money. Scholarships often require time and attention to detail in order to research the ones you qualify for, carefully fill out applications or write required essays and keep track of deadlines. The most common are merit-based, need-based or athletic, but you can also earn them by being affiliated with certain groups or if you have a special talent or skill-set. Many types of organizations provide financial aid to qualifying students, so you should acquaint yourself with the ones available through your high school, college, company, parent’s or relative’s work, and your local community to see what you might qualify for. You can also find these and more through college scholarship Web sites such as Fastweb.com. Additional information is also available at the U.S. Department of Education.
Grants are sometimes referred to as gift aid because unlike other forms of college financial aid, they don’t have to be repaid. Traditionally for undergraduate students, the gift amount is based on need as determined by information provided on the FAFSA, as well as the cost of attendance at the university the student is enrolled at. There are currently four federal gift aids available that undergraduate students can apply for:
- Federal Pell: Pells are awarded by the Department of Education to low-income students and do not have to be repaid. These awards are typically given to first-year undergraduate students.
- FSEOG- Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity: The FSEOG Program provides need-based aide to low-income undergraduate students to promote access to post-secondary education. There are approximately 4,000 participating postsecondary institutions who award this type federal financial aid.
- TEACH- Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education: Through the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007, Congress created the (TEACH) Grant Program that provides aide of up to $4,000 per year to students who intend to teach in a public or private elementary or secondary school that serves students from low-income families.
- Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant: A student whose parent or guardian was a member of the U.S. Armed Forces and died as a result of service performed in Iraq or Afghanistan after September 11, 2001 may be eligible to receive the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant.
Loans are borrowed money and repayment with interest is required. Students apply for them in order to finance their education that they cannot cover upfront with money they’ve saved or through other non-repayable forms of financial aid. Students and parents are eligible to take out a loan to finance a student’s higher education. There are two broad types: 1) Federal as offered through the government and 2) Private are offered through the bank. There are 5 federal student aid types currently available, but the most common ones are:
- Federal Perkins Loan: Students with exceptional financial need are awarded the Perkins. A school’s Financial Aid office determines the amount awarded to the qualified student. Then the school acts as the lender and distributes the government funds. The annual maximum allowed for an undergraduate and graduate student is $4,000 and $6,000, respectively. An undergraduate student is allowed to borrow up to $20,000 under the Perkins. If the student continues on to graduate school than the limit raises to the $40,000 maximum.
- Federal Stafford Loan: Staffords can be subsidized or unsubsidized. The subsidized type means the government pays the interest while the student is enrolled in school. If it is unsubsidized than the student can pay interest while in school or may elect to defer the payment until after graduation. Regardless of need, all students are eligible for the unsubsidized Stafford Loan.
Keep in mind though, you or your parents can also apply for the PLUS for Parents, PLUS for Graduate and Professional Degree Students or the Consolidation Option, depending on your circumstance.
Private loans are offered by banks and credit unions across the US. When looking for this type of financial aid, it’s important to truly understand the terms of the loan, such as when your repayment period begins and what the interest rate will be. Especially in today’s economy, you need to pay special attention to how long the deferment period is in the event you don’t find a job right after college or if you lose your job suddenly.
Many schools offer work-study programs as well, where you can earn money while attending school to help pay for your education expenses. You can find information about your school’s work study program usually on the College Financial Aid page of your school’s website, or you can visit the Financial Aid Office. Currently, there are about 3,400 institutions that participated in federal work-study programs.
Fortunately, those freshmen who’s parents didn’t leave them trust funds can still achieve their dream of higher education through various forms of financial aid for college students. It’s important to find the option or options that best suits your financial needs, and by exploring the options listed above, you’re off to a good start in financing your education expenses. If you have any tips for other students to secure the maximum amount of college financial aid, please leave a comment!