Scarier than Jason in Friday the 13th, more intimidating than “Stone Cold” Steve Austin on a bad day, longer than War and Peace, and harder than programming your computer with the monitor turned off. That’s how some people feel about financial aid. But it doesn’t have to be that bad. Look at the acrostic “F.A.C.T.S.” to understand the basics.
F stands for “Fill out a FAFSA,” the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. You can find FAFSAs in most guidance counseling offices. It’s wise to fill one out by mid-February in your senior year.
“But,” you say, “I’m not eligible for any financial aid.” Wrong! The A in FACTS means “Anyone Can Receive Financial Aid.” Even students from high-income families can get loans (and sometimes other aid, too).
C stands for “Communication is Critical.” After you mail your FAFSA, you’ll receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) that restates the information you reported. Carefully read it and then make any necessary corrections. Each college will probably ask you for additional information. Failure to follow through could cost you. Also, make sure that the college financial aid office knows about any unusual circumstances that impact your ability to pay for college. The FAFSA can’t ask all the questions that fit each individual situation.
Let’s move on to the T in FACTS, which represents “Types of Financial Aid.” The first two types, grants and scholarships, both are free money to help pay for your education. A third type of aid is loans. Most students find it necessary to borrow in order to attend college. Think of your student loans as an investment in your future. Work is a fourth type of aid. This includes having a part-time job while you’re in college. Of course, these are glamorous, high paying jobs like tutoring or working in The Eatery. They can help take care of your personal expenses while you’re at school.
Finally, S stands for “Sources of Aid.” There are four primary sources and the first is the Federal government. Use the FAFSA to apply for aid like the Pell Grant, which is reserved for the neediest students. If you are awarded a Pell, you might also receive a Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant. The Federal government also funds the Perkins and Stafford Loan programs. Both are probably superior to other loans you might find on your own. With each of these loans, you don’t have to make any payments while you’re attending college at least halftime. You may also have heard of Federal Work-Study. This is a program that makes it easier for needy students to get part-time jobs while they’re in college.
The second source of aid is your own state. Most states have grant programs that help students, especially those with financial need, pay for colleges within their own state. To apply in most states, all you need is the FAFSA.
The third source is your college. Colleges spend tons of their own money on aid for their students! Application procedures vary, so be sure to contact each college you’re considering to find out what you need to do.
Private organizations are the fourth source of aid. It can be difficult to find out what scholarships are available and to apply for each one but there are many Internet sites that hold info on thousands of scholarships. Put effort into a thorough scholarship search about a year before starting college. Target scholarships sponsored by businesses and organizations in your own area. Some employers and unions offer scholarships to their employees and members, or their dependents.
So, there you have it: Five Financial Aid FACTS to make paying for college less intimidating. It still isn’t as easy as operating a toaster, but now you know that applying for financial aid shouldn’t scare you!