“How am I going to pay for college? I don’t know where to start! Are there federal funds available? Does my state offer any help?”
If this is how you feel, relax, we’re here to help you get through this process. Figuring out how to pay for college is not easy. There are federal funds available and most states offer grants and scholarships, but you must know where to find them and how to get them. Below you will find some answers for your questions.
The federal government offers financial help to undergraduate, graduate, and professional students who are attending a university or college. To determine if you qualify for federal aid, you must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The information provided when filling out the FAFSA will determine the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Your EFC isn’t necessarily what your family will have to pay, it’s just a calculated amount used to determine how much financial aid you are eligible to receive based on your college’s cost of attendance. You should fill out the FAFSA even if you think your family makes too much money to qualify for financial aid, because your state also uses the information from the FAFSA to determine eligibility for state-funded grants and scholarships. Also, most schools require the completed FAFSA to be on file to consider students for their institutional scholarships.
Begin by going to the Federal Student Aid (FSA) website where you will be prompted to create a new FSA ID. This ID will be used as your login and your legal signature on the FAFSA application.
Now that you have your FSA ID, you can start on the FAFSA application.
The website for the FAFSA application includes sections on student demographics, school selection, dependency status, parent demographics, financial information, and signing and submitting the application. If you need to exit before finishing the application, there are instructions to create a “save key” which serves as a password to use to return to it later. Your progress will be saved for up to 45 days. You will receive a confirmation when the application is completed and submitted. You will need to renew your FAFSA each year.
There are important dates to remember for the FAFSA. October 1st is the date the FAFSA opens for the next academic year. The deadline for FAFSA submission is June 30th, and any corrections must be made by September 11th.These dates may change so be sure to confirm them each year. You should complete and submit your application as soon as possible after October 1st because some state financial aid program deadlines are much earlier than the FAFSA deadline.
Now that you have completed the FAFSA, let’s look at state financial aid. Each state has their own financial aid programs. Some have lotteries with sales proceeds funding scholarship programs. Others have student loan options with lower interest rates than private loans. We have provided below some of the details for each state, but you should check with your state’s department of post-secondary education for more information. Be aware of the deadlines for state applications; most states begin awarding funds right after their deadline date and continue until funds are depleted.
The financial aid office at the school you have chosen to attend will determine the amount of need-based financial aid you are eligible to receive. This is determined by taking the cost of attendance and subtracting the estimated family contribution (EFC) from your FAFSA. The remaining amount is your need-based financial aid needed. For instance, if the cost of attendance is $20,000 and your EFC is $15,000, your financial need is $5,000. In this case, you are not eligible for more than $5,000 in need-based financial aid.
Some need-based federal aid programs include Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, direct subsidized loans, and federal work study. This need can also be offset by offers from the school through institutional scholarships for low-income students, work-study, and grants.
Non-need-based aid is not based on your EFC and is available to all students. It is based on the difference between the cost of attendance and the amount of need-based financial aid you have received. If the cost of attendance is $20,000 and the amount of need-based aid as calculated above is $5,000, the non-need-based aid amount you can receive is $15,000. Non-need-based aid is offered through loans from the Federal Student Aid office of the US Department of Education and through scholarships from the school and outside organizations. This type of aid may be based on such things as merit, high school performance, or community service. There may be scholarships available for activities outside of your major. For example, many schools offer scholarships to students who play in the band even if they are not majoring in music. Ask the financial aid office or your recruiter for all opportunities for financial aid.
There are thousands of non-institutional scholarships available to students. These scholarships are offered by community groups, churches, credit unions, businesses, employers, and other independent donors. Most non-institutional scholarships are paid to the school, but there are some which are paid directly to the student allowing the award to be used for any kind of expenses. We have assembled a database of over 16,500 non-institutional scholarships available across the United States.
In our database you can search for scholarships by state, organization, type (music, dance, theatre, or general), or any keyword like “female” or “clarinet.” Many scholarships are for high school seniors, but there are also scholarships available to undergraduate, graduate, and non-traditional students. There are scholarships which are specific to race, religious beliefs, field of study, and other criteria. Be sure to read the eligibility requirements carefully; some scholarships indicate they are location specific, but there may be a note stating if no one from that location applies, other applications will be considered.
Hopefully, this overview of financial aid has helped you understand how the aid process works. If you are proactive with your applications to schools and apply for aid early, you can reduce the amount you will have to pay for your college education.