National Center for College Costs
The Financial Aid Process:
You’ve done it. You’re close to graduating high school and are getting ready to attend college. The next step is figuring out how to pay for your college education. In today’s knowledge-driven economy, the benefits of a college education cannot be over-emphasized. Statistics show that college graduates have more opportunities for employment than high school graduates who lack a college education.
A college education often serves as the doorway into a steady and rewarding career. That’s why it’s crucial to be aware of the available ways to pay for your valuable college education. One of the ways to pay for college that should not be overlooked is federal financial aid, which can be attained by filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.
By filing the FAFSA for financial aid and completing the financial aid application process, you are taking an important step in securing your college education.
The Online FAFSA Financial Aid Application Process
Due to the high demand for federal funding, it is highly recommended that those who wish to apply for FAFSA aid do so early. By filling out and submitting your FAFSA aid application early, you are more likely to get all the financial aid that you are eligible for. You can complete the FAFSA financial aid application process online. By doing so, your time spent waiting for your Student Aid Report (SAR) is greatly reduced.
Before filing the FAFSA for financial aid, there are a few things you can do to make sure the process goes smoothly. To assist in the financial aid application process, we’ve outlined the steps in applying for FAFSA aid, as well as provided a few tips to help make sure you’re prepared:
- Make sure you have the proper documentation, including Social Security Number, driver’s license, tax information, and other financial records.
- If you are going to apply for FAFSA aid online, apply for your PIN.
- Submit your application online. Make sure you print a copy of your FAFSA aid applications for your personal records.
- Upon receiving your SAR (Student Aid Report), check for any inaccuracies. If there are inaccuracies, make sure you correct them.
- Start receiving your award letters.
- Review which award option is best for your individual situation.
- Once you decide which award to accept, sign and return the chosen award letter. Make sure you decline award letters from colleges you won’t be attending.
By being aware of the FAFSA financial aid application process and filing early, you increase the likelihood of receiving the aid you are eligible for.
Types of FAFSA Aid
As a student, there are several forms of FAFSA aid that you may be eligible to receive. Keep in mind, however, that not all forms of aid are available for every college, so contact your college of choice to make sure they participate with the type of financial aid you are interested in.
FAFSA Aid Grants
Grants are a form of FAFSA aid which generally do not need to be paid back. To qualify for financial grants, you must meet certain eligibility requirements. Here is a list of some of the grants available to college-bound students:
- Federal Pell Grants – Federal Pell Grants are a form of FAFSA aid that are usually only available to students of undergraduate programs, although there are some exceptions. These grants usually don’t need to be repaid.
- National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent Grant – Often referred to as a National SMART Grant, this form of FAFSA aid is available to third and fourth-year undergraduate students in amounts up to $4,000 per year. Requirements for this aid include U.S. citizenship, full-time enrollment, and a major in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, or a critical foreign language. To qualify for this grant, you must also meet eligibility requirements for the Federal Pell Grant.
- Academic Competitiveness Grant – The Academic Competitiveness Grant, often referred to as the ACG, is available to first- and second-year undergraduate students. First-year undergraduate students can receive up to $750, while second-year undergraduate students can receive up to $1,300. Eligibility requirements for this form of FAFSA aid include U.S. citizenship, full-time enrollment in the first or second academic year of your program of study at a degree-granting institution, and completion of a rigorous high school program.
- Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants – This form of FAFSA aid is only available to undergraduate students in award amounts ranging from $100 – $4,000.
FAFSA Aid Loans
Unlike grants, student loans must be repaid, and both subsidized and unsubsidized student loans are available. Here are some of the FAFSA financial aid loans available:
- Federal Stafford Loans – This form of FAFSA aid is available to undergraduate students, as well as to students in graduate programs. As a first-year student you can borrow up to $5,500 (up to $3,500 of which can be a subsidized loan, if you qualify). The loan limits increase for upperclass students: sophomores can borrow $6,500 (up to $4,500 subsidized); juniors and seniors can borrow $7,500 (up to $5,500 subsidized). Moreover, first-year independent students or dependent students whose parents are denied a PLUS loan (detailed below) can apply for an additional $4,000 in unsubsidized Stafford Loans. The relatively low interest rates and favorable repayment terms of Stafford Loans make this a good place to start borrowing.
- Federal PLUS Loans – This form of unsubsidized FAFSA aid is a loan made to parents. If you cannot qualify for a Federal PLUS Loan, consider applying for a Federal Stafford Loan. The interest rate on this FAFSA financial aid is variable, although the maximum interest rate is 9 percent.
- Perkins Loans – As with other student loans, Perkins Loans must be repaid. With an interest rate of 5 percent, this form of FAFSA aid is available to undergraduate students at a maximum annual amount of $4,000. These loans are also available to graduate students with a maximum annual loan amount of $8,000.
Work Study & FAFSA Financial Aid
While the most well-known forms of FAFSA aid are student loans and grants, some colleges also participate in Work Study programs.
This form of aid provides employment to both graduate and undergraduate students. This program enables students to earn money and pay for their educational costs.
Keep in mind, not all colleges participate in every available aid program, so contact your college’s financial aid office to find out which programs are available.