Navigating Financial Aid

Help With Financial Aid

The National Center for Educational Statistics reports those receiving financial aid for higher education has increased to 85 percent for those attending college for the first time. Every one of these students had to work through the various steps of applying for aid.

If you are one of these students, there is a lot to know about finding money to pay for college. This article gives you a detailed perspective on each of these important aspects of the financial aid process.

You will learn that sources of financial aid can come from different sources including family, grants, scholarships, and loans.You may even choose to apply to a federal work study program. You can apply for most of these through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). You can do this on the Department of Education’s website.

Meeting important deadlines, meeting payment due dates and working with college financial aid counselors are a few more areas to master when navigating financial aid. Keep reading for advice on how to navigate financial aid.


FAFSA Basics

The FAFSA is a free way to apply for money offered through grants, scholarships and loans to help you pay for higher education. It’s long, it may seem overwhelming, but it is a necessary part of getting the federal funding you need.

You can start applying on October 1st of the year prior to beginning college. This allows you to make early decisions about where, when and how you attend college. Based on how much money you receive, you may choose to complete many courses online, or attend a local college for two years before transferring to a four-year program.


Know Grants and Scholarships

There are several types of funding you can pursue. They can range from gifts that you do not have to repay to loans with interest fees attached.

Grants are offered by the federal government based on income and need, as well as by colleges which can be based on merit or need. It’s important to apply for as many as possible to give yourself the best odds.

Another avenue for funding is a work study program. The funding does not have to be repaid, but you will be expected to work on campus in exchange for the funding.

Private colleges offer financial aid too but it’s not the FAFSA you need to complete. Instead, the CSS Profile is the application necessary for application of school-based scholarships.  A minimal application fee will help you reach more colleges than just the FAFSA.

The FAFSA is great but it is not the only way to acquire money for education. There are other sources of funding you should apply for including state-funded programs. You can use the State Financial Aid Locator tool to help you discover what is available.

Many scholarships are available through local, state, regional and national organizations. Individual corporations often have an application process for future students. Check with your local banks, groceries and even department stores to see if they offer scholarships.

Even if the funding they offer is small, it can help. Use websites like Fast Web and Scholly to create online searches for funding.

Once you have exhausted efforts applying for free funding, you can move on to loans. All loans will need to be repaid by a deadline.


Know the Types of Loans

Interest rates matter when it comes to taking out loans for college. You want to apply for loans with the lowest interest rates first. These are called subsidized loans and have a subsidy attached that requires the government to pay for part of the interest charges.

Opposite of this is unsubsidized loans. With these you are responsible for all the interest charges. On top of these there are parent plus loans and graduate plus loans, each specific to that group of students. One other way to obtain financial aid is through private loans.

Private loans are offered by many organizations, from banks and credit unions to credit card companies.


Take Advantage of Financial Aid Experts

No, you do not need to pay for help in applying for the FAFSA or any financial aid. Why pay when there are free experts waiting to help you? Take advantage of the college financial aid officers. They have access to online application systems and can guide you through each step of the process.

Guidance Counselors are also a great resource for finding college funding. They can provide advice based on your situation, your goals and your needs.


Extra Tips

Khan Academy offers a video course that helps you navigate the financial aid process. They help you analyze college costs, evaluate how your family’s income can affect funding, and walk you through every step of applying for aid.

Read the Frequently Asked Questions section on the FAFSA website. Here you can gain a wealth of information regarding each section. They also provide a checklist you can use to help you manage your application to avoid submitting it with incomplete information.

Apply as early as you can for all types of financial aid.

The number of courses you take will affect the amount of financial aid you can receive. So, when you apply, make sure you have thought about course load beforehand.

Know how much you need to borrow before you apply. A standard formula used by the department of Education is simple: cost of education-family contribution=what you need to borrow.

Take into consideration the many other factors when applying for financial aid. For instance, if you have existing debt, adding to it could make a difference. Or, if immediate or extended family members have resources such as retirement accounts or trusts, you may want to borrow from them instead of getting a high interest loan.

Finally, you may want to consider attending college in a non-traditional way, such as working full-time and taking online courses. The good news is that you have options in today’s higher education. Many local colleges offer flexible schedules both online and in person.

The key to navigating financial aid is to do the research and make choices best for your lifestyle.