Information on student financial aid is provided to assist you in meeting the costs of obtaining your degree. Your goal is to maximize your financial aid opportunities while minimizing the cost and number of loans.
Student financial aid programs were developed to assist students and families in bearing the cost of attending a college or university. The federal government stepped in to provide financial assistance to encourage people to achieve higher education. The main sources of student financial aid are the federal government, state governments, colleges or universities, and private funds. The federal government administers some funds directly (including grants and loans), and other funds are allocated to the state governments to administer programs on a state level. Colleges and universities have scholarships available through privately-donated funds, alumni giving, and development funds. These funds vary greatly from college to college. Private sources consist of family funds and outside scholarships, grants, or loans.
Student financial aid is divided into two main types: Gift aid (scholarships and grants) and self-help (work-study programs and loans). Thus, there is money that is given, money that is earned, and money that is loaned from either the government or a private lending institution.
To plan for this investment wisely, follow some key steps and you should be able to find the resources necessary to finance your education. Remember, however, that financial aid does not just happen - it is a process that takes time and planning.
1. Identify which forms you need to file to be considered for financial aid.
Financial Aid PROFILE - To award their own funds, many colleges and universities require a second application, the Financial Aid PROFILE. If a college you are considering requires the PROFILE, you can register by calling the College Scholarship Service at (800) 778-6888. You can also register via the Internet by accessing the College Board.
Institutional Forms - Some colleges may ask you to complete their own financial aid application in order to be considered for private funds. Normally, this information is listed in the college catalog or in other materials the college provides. However, you should check with your college's financial aid office to be certain.
2. File your applications for financial aid.
If the colleges you are applying to require just the FAFSA - Complete and submit the FAFSA after January 1. Remember to file early (but not before January 1) and to meet any college-imposed deadlines, which are normally in February or March. (See the section titled "Tips on Completing the FAFSA" for more information).
If the colleges you are applying to require the PROFILE - Register for the Financial Aid PROFILE in the fall of your senior year in high school. A few weeks after you register, you'll receive a customized financial aid application that you can use to apply for institutional aid at the colleges you have designated. Again, make sure you submit your PROFILE well before the deadline.
3. Review the financial aid report that is sent to you.
If you have completed only the FAFSA - After you send in your FAFSA, you'll receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) that reviews the information you reported and contains your estimated family contribution (EFC) for the colleges you listed. Review this information carefully. If there are errors, correct them on the form provided and send it back to the processor. When the information on the SAR is correct, the processor will send copies to the collegiate institutions you listed. The financial aid administrator will then determine your financial aid award. The award will tell you how much aid you are eligible to receive from that college for that academic year.
If you have completed the PROFILE - Two to four weeks after submitting your PROFILE, you will receive a report with your estimated family contribution (EFC) based on federal formulas and your family contribution using the Institutional Methodology based on the data you provided in your PROFILE. The colleges then use this report to determine the awarding or institutional aid.
File Early. As indicated above, to receive federal student aid, stated student aid, and institutional aid, you MUST file the FAFSA. Send your FAFSA in as soon as possible after January 1 and by mid-February to meet most colleges' deadlines. Even though the final deadline for filing is June 30, you might find yourself on the bottom of the list for receiving financial aid if you wait until then to apply.
Be Prepared. The FAFSA will ask for information based on your income and tax returns. You can use information based on an estimated income tax return. However, do not send tax forms or any other information with the FAFSA. If more information is needed, the federal financial aid office will contact you. Before you fill out the FAFSA, you and your parents or guardians will need to gather the following materials:
Keep a copy of your FAFSA and all income tax documents. Occasionally, paperwork does get lost in the mail. If you have copies, you will decrease the delay in filing for federal student aid. Within four to six weeks from the time you send in your FAFSA, you should receive the SAR - Student Aid Report. If you have not received it within that time, contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center at (319) 337-5665, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. eastern time.
Renewing the FAFSA. To be eligible to receive aid the following college year, a FAFSA renewal form must be filed after January 1 of that year - just as for the first FAFSA. The amount of student financial aid will change each year as the college's costs increase or as the family's financial situation changes. Family changes include salary changes, additional children in college, a parent in college, a long-term illness, a disability and/or any number of life changes.