Undergraduate students can apply for financial aid through several outlets to get the best financial aid package possible. Most types of financial aid are based on the student's and family's income and assets, but students who do not qualify for need-based aid might be able to receive merit scholarships and student loans. Students should fill out a few types of financial aid applications in the winter or early spring leading up to each academic year.
The main financial aid application is the FAFSA through the federal government. This application is the gateway to Pell Grants, Stafford loans, federal work-study assignments and many other federally-funded financial aid programs. The FAFSA asks students and their parents to report last year's income, household size, the number of students in college, ages of parents and the amount of money in bank accounts and investments. Complete your tax return and gather recent financial statements before beginning the FAFSA. Find the application on the Department of Education website and answer all questions, including filling in the school to send the information to. If you are applying for your freshman year and do not yet know where you will attend college, list all of the schools to which you have applied. The last step to filling out the FAFSA is requesting a PIN from the Department of Education and entering it to sign the application.
Some colleges have a separate financial aid application that asks a few questions that did not appear on the FAFSA. These questions might help the college award grants or scholarships from its endowment. Call your school's financial aid office or visit its website to find out if the school has a separate application. You might be able to complete it online or you might have to print it, fill it out and mail it to the school.
Private schools sometimes require an additional financial aid appication called the CSS Profile. This application is through the College Board and asks some more detailed questions that do not appear on the FAFSA. These questions assess a family's assets in real estate and get information about a student's non-custodial parent's finances if the parents are divorced. Fill out the application on the College Board website. You must pay an application fee of $9 plus $16 for each college you are sending it to. Some low-income first-year undergraduate students are offered fee waivers based on their answers on the application.
Students who do not receive enough financial aid from the federal government or the college can apply for student loans from private lenders. Major banks, such as Wells Fargo, Chase and Bank of America, offer student loans, as do companies such as Sallie Mae that are focused on student lending. As an undergraduate student, you will probably need one of your parents who has a good credit score to co-sign the loan with you. This means that your parent agrees to repay the loan if you don't, and many lenders require a co-signer for students without much credit history. You can also apply for scholarships through national contests and local companies. Use FastWeb's scholarship search to find scholarships for which you might qualify.