Throughout the college admissions process, you’ll encounter several important checkpoints. Selecting schools, applying for admission and receiving college acceptances are all critical. But, your decision often comes down to the question, “How will I pay for this?” Financial aid can help by providing scholarships, grants, work-study employment opportunities, and student loans to those who qualify. Below are essential financial aid facts every student should know, including an introduction to the FAFSA.
Most financial aid requires filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
The FAFSA is the application for federal grants, work-study, and federal loans. Colleges and most state grant programs use the FAFSA to award their financial aid. Check your school financial aid website to see if you need to submit additional forms. When filling out your FAFSA, note that many state grant applications require you to list an in-state school first for consideration. You can find additional resources on filing the FAFSA on our website, with articles like Need Help Paying for College? We Have Tips for Filing the FAFSA.
Know and meet financial aid application deadlines
Most schools have deadlines for submitting the FAFSA. Complete yours in time to meet the earliest deadline for the schools you’re considering, or for your state grant program if that deadline is first. The earlier you apply, the more likely you are to be considered for all the forms of financial aid. If you miss deadlines, you may receive fewer grants, need more loans, or may be offered less financial aid overall. Returning students have FAFSA deadlines as well. You can find deadline information on college financial aid websites. Tip: If your family’s income tax returns will not be filed by your schools’ FAFSA deadlines, you can estimate income. There is an IRS release which allows the IRS to transfer your tax return information to financial aid offices when filed.
Don’t rule out a college because you think it’s too expensive
The intent of financial aid is to provide access and college choice for students with financial need. If you are accepted at a school and filed your FAFSA and any other required forms in a timely way, you will receive a financial aid award notification before you are asked to make a decision about whether you will attend. To be in the best position, apply for admission at a few schools and send your FAFSA to all.
You’ll use your family’s 2015 income twice
The filing timeframe for the FAFSA begins in October for the next year. Basically, this means you’ll be using your 2015 income once again when you complete the 2017-18 FAFSA. The reason is the transition to a new filing timeframe; this duplication will not occur again. Since the new FAFSA filing deadline is earlier, all the related deadlines will change. Check your school’s financial aid website and Federal Student Aid’s website for more information as October approaches.
Compare financial aid packages
If you’ve followed the advice above, you should receive financial aid packages from a few schools, if you are eligible. You can compare the amount of scholarships, grants, work-study, and loans offered at each school, and calculate your net costs at each. When determining your school costs, consider all expenses – tuition, fees, room, board, books, supplies, transportation, and personal expenses. The makeup of your financial aid package differs among your schools, and the net cost may differ as well. If you need additional aid, there may be other federal loans and private loans to help cover your portion of costs.
Before you accept your financial aid and make a final decision about the school you will attend, be sure to read all the information accompanying your financial aid offer. You should fully understand each program in your package, your obligations, and and the renewal process for each program. If you have questions, your college financial aid office is an excellent resource.