Of course, receiving free money for college sounds great. That’s not the issue. But the process sounds scary enough that it seems not worth the effort at times.
We can’t promise you won’t experience headaches as you apply for financial aid. But you can ease your stress by following a few important tips.
If you’re a high school senior graduating in May, first off, congratulations!
Now is the time to start planning on financing your post-secondary education.
If you think you can’t afford college, think again.
There are several scholarships available for you. Not all scholarships require a high GPA or a special talent.
One “scholarship” is financial aid, which is money granted to you by the Federal Government. You can obtain this by filling out a Free Application for Student Aid (FASFA) form.
Depending on if you qualify, you can either get approved for a loan or receive a grant. A grant is money awarded to you for college expenses that you don’t have to repay.
Understanding the difference between a scholarship, grant and loan can get tricky. So we’ll break it down.
In the simplest terms:
- Scholarship= Money awarded from a college or other provider.
- Grant= Free money from the government
- Loan= Money you have to pay back
In more specific terms:
Scholarships are separate from FAFSA. You can obtain scholarships through the college you’re attending.
Grants and loans are received through financial aid.
Receiving loans through FAFSA can be useful, considering they do not need to be paid while attending college. Keep in mind that interest rates after graduation can be high, and the payments demanding.
If you can find grants and scholarships, these will serve you much better in the long run.
Does Income Level Impact FAFSA Approval?
It’s a common misconception that FAFSA only applies to those with low incomes.
In reality, FAFSA is granted based on student’s cost ratio.
Colleges expect students to contribute about 47% of their net annual income.
If the price of tuition/books exceeds that percentage, you are granted aid.
So, if you have a lower income home, chances are, the percentage of college costs to your total income would be a high ratio.
But that does not mean those who have higher incomes shouldn’t apply.
Let’s say for example, there are two different students whose parents earn the same income, say $100,000. One student is attending a public community college while the other is attending an expensive private university. In this case, the student attending a private university is more likely to receive financial aid.
You can learn more about ratio costs here.
Regardless of your income, you should apply for FAFSA. It’s free to apply, and you definitely won’t receive any aid if you don’t try.
Items Needed to Complete FAFSA
- Your social security number.
- Your Alien Registration number. (Only applies if you are not a U.S. Citizen).
- Your parents’ most recent Tax Return forms, including W2 forms and any other form of income
How to Apply
- Start an application on the FAFSA site.
- Create a PIN number. You’ll use this pin number the rest of your college career, so don’t forget!
- Fill out the entire form using the items above.
For more detailed instructions on the application process, check out this Infographic.
Apply, Even if You’re Unsure of Your Plans After Graduation
If you haven’t decided just yet where you are attending college after graduation, you can still apply.
The FAFSA form is the same for any college you attend. Not knowing where you’re attending can impact in the dollar amount you receive, but it’s better to apply early than to wait on your decision.
A Few Important Things to Note
- FAFSA opened October 1 and runs through about June 2018
- The earlier you apply, the better! Students who apply in January are much more likely to receive grants than those in May.
- Many scholarships require a FAFSA form, so if you plan to apply for any scholarships, be sure to complete your FAFSA form this month.
The May deadline applies to students attending college in the Fall 2018 semester. Students who are not attending until the Spring 2017 semester have until December 2018 to complete the form. But, again, the earlier you apply, the better.
Whatever your plans after graduation, be sure to take the time to fill out a FAFSA form. It truly doesn’t hurt, and could grant you free money to use toward your education.
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