To help you afford a higher education, the US government offers financial aid packages. Though this is incredibly helpful, the application and retrievable process of financial aid can often times be confusing and time consuming. Seeking help from financial aid services can help expedite your application process and get you the most from your student funding.
Before you can accept government financial aid, you must fill out your FAFSA, also known as the Free Application For Federal Student Aid. The form contains information like financial assets, income, degree pursued and potential schools. Both parents and children fill out this form completely. To be applicable, students must have either their GED or be set to complete their high school diploma and have no drug-related convictions. To receive government funding, students must also be certified US citizens.
This form is used to regulate which families and students receive funding from the government during their time in college. The amount a family is expected to be able to contribute to their students’ education is called the EFC, or Estimated Family Contribution. This number is used by the university’s financial aid office to determine the need of each student and how much funding they should receive.
Based upon need, students can receive grants, as well as low-interest loans and work-study programs. Each school has aggregate limits as well as annual funding caps. The most frequently awarded grant is the Pell Grant. The Pell Grant does not need to be paid back! Part-time, government subsidized work is referred to as a work-study. To become eligible, and to maintain that eligibility, the student must show satisfactory academic progress, or SAP. If you cannot meet these standards, you run the risk of losing your work-study and you may be asked to repay your grants.
Loans are available to all students, regardless of need. The amount a student can borrow, however, is still determined by need and grade level of the student. Independent students not claimed on their parents’ taxes, who live alone are eligible for Stafford loans which do not require a credit check. Parents are also applicable for loans to help support their kids based off their income.
Each school sets its own giving limits based on a variety of aspects. These caps can be less than the government requirements. The cost of attending the university is based on tuition, housing, location and other expenses. Students can only receive funding that matches the cost of attendance.
Stay on top of deadlines for each of your schools of choice. Each school has different deadlines, so check with your school’s financial aid office to see what their individual deadlines are. It’s better to turn in your paper work earlier, rather than later. Since schools have a specific amount they can give out, many schools function on a first come, first serve basis. Schools also differ in the amount of time it takes for them to process paper work. Keep on top of these dates and timelines and don’t be surprised if your school requires you to have your information turned in by the end of January, even if your school year isn’t set to start until the fall.
This brief overview is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to financial aid. Never hesitate to reach out to your school’s financial aid office to ask any of your financial aid questions!