With the cost of a college education rising each year, it's important to know everything you can about college financial aid assistance. There are multiple programs offering college financial aid assistance, but navigating the application process requires patience and persistence.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is an application that asks for information about your assets and income from the previous tax year in order to define your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Acquiring your EFC number is the first of many steps in the process of applying for financial aid for college students. Information from the FAFSA is used to ascertain eligibility for all forms of federal aid for college students. The FAFSA is also used to determine financial need for some private scholarships. Therefore, you should complete the FAFSA even if you don't think you qualify for federal assistance.
There is a space on the FAFSA to enter codes for each college you are considering attending, so you only need to complete one FAFSA application. Some colleges and universities do have their own supplemental financial aid forms, but this should be specified on your college application.
There are three basic types of financial aid for college. They are grants, scholarships, and loans. Understanding the difference between each type of assistance will help make sure that you take the best possible approach to paying for your educational expenses.
Grants do not need to be repaid. Money from the Pell Grant and Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) programs is awarded based on your financial need as determined by the FAFSA. Academic merit is not a factor.
Scholarships, like grants, do not need to be repaid. They are typically awarded based on academic merit, but may also consider factors such as extracurricular involvement, letters of recommendation, and your future career goals. Financial need could be a consideration for some types of awards. Scholarships usually require the completion of separate application forms for each award program, although some schools will allow you to apply for multiple awards by completing one basic application.
Student loans are the only type of financial aid for college that must be repaid. Therefore, even though student loans have a lower interest rate than other types of loans, they should be used as a last resort when paying for college expenses. You can apply for federal student loans by completing the FAFSA. Loans offered through private lenders will have their own applications.
The process of adjusting a student's financial aid package after the initial award offer has been made is sometimes called negotiation or professional judgment. If your finances have changed since completing the FAFSA due to a job loss, death in the family, unforeseen medical expenses, or other difficulties, your college's financial aid office can assist in filing appeals forms. By providing updating information regarding income and assets, you may be able to receive an adjustment in your financial aid award package. One common misconception regarding college financial aid is that it is possible to use an offer from one college as a bargaining chip with another school. This is not allowed at most schools in the United States, regardless of the qualifications of the student. Negotiation or professional judgment is reserved for determining financial need only.