Securing financial aid can be one of the most confusing processes. However, it really comes down to just a few simple concepts and strategies. What most students and parents don’t realize is that preparing to pay for college can begin as early as Freshman year. Here are a few tips about the process:
1. Sources of Aid. There are 3 sources of aid: Federal/State, Institutional, and Organizational.
- Federal/State: Both federal and state governments offer aid to eligible students.
- Institutional: Many colleges, especially private institutions, provide aid to their students.
- Organizational: Many companies and organizations provide scholarships for students.
2. Types of Aid. There are 3 types of aid: Grants/Scholarships, Loans, and Work Study.
- Grants/Scholarships: Do not need to be repaid.
- Loans: Must be repaid. Loans are available for both parents and students.
- Work Study: A program to help students earn money while in school.
- Note: Being awarded work study funds does not guarantee the student will secure a job, but does offer many more opportunities to do so.
3. The Process. There are really only a few steps to getting financial aid.
- FAFSA: Federal and state aid is determined through the FAFSA which can be submitted at www.fafsa.gov in the student’s senior year. Be sure to indicate interest in work study. Everyone should fill out the FAFSA regardless of desire or need for aid!
- Institutional Aid: Most schools consider students for aid based on their application alone. However, some will require a separate application for particular scholarships or require you to submit a CSS Profile, which is similar to the FAFSA.
- Scholarships: Search and apply for organizational scholarships regularly. You can find scholarships and scholarship information on Naviance. Otherwise, ask the companies/organizations you or your parents are a part of. There are even some available for freshmen, sophomores, and juniors!
4. Wait. Once you’ve filled out the necessary applications, all you can do is wait. Once accepted, each college will send you a complete financial aid package outlining your federal/state and institutional aid, as well as your options for loans. It is only then that you can truly compare costs. Don’t worry too much about the types of grants/scholarships you are awarded. It’s the final amount that counts. Types of loans, however, will make a difference, but no need to worry about that yet. The financial aid office at the school you choose to attend will be able to walk you through everything.