A Guide to Financial Aid

What is Financial Aid and how much does it cover?

Financial aid is money that can be used to pay for college. There are many different types of financial aid and some need to be paid back. Financial aid will help students cover a portion or up to 100 percent of their college tuition and fees. Financial aid available for each student depends on many factors including when you file FAFSA, Expected Family Contribution (EFC), the school’s cost of attendance and financial aid department resources. There are some colleges that offer free tuition for families under a certain annual income.

Types of Financial Aid

Athletic Scholarships: Scholarships that are awarded to student-athletes from the college’s athletic department.

Academic Scholarships: Scholarships that are awarded to students with high academic merit and performance. These types of scholarships usually depend on GPA, class ranking and standardized test scores.

Merit Scholarships: Merit Aid is provided to students by private organizations. These scholarships are usually based on athletic, academic or artistic merit.

Federal Student Aid: Need-based aid that students don’t have to pay back after finishing school. Students can check their eligibility for need-based aid by filing their Federal Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Grants: Need-based aid that also does not need to be paid back by the students. Students may qualify for grants awarded by the federal government or by their college. To determine their eligibility for grants, students will need to complete their FAFSA. 

Federal Work-Study Program: A federally funded program that helps students pay for their tuition through a part-time employment program at the school.

Federal Student Loans: A loan from the U.S Department of Education that students can borrow however they must pay the loan back with interest after finishing school.

Private Student Loans: A loan made by a private organization such as a bank or credit union that students can borrow to attend college. Private loans must be paid back with interest. The terms and conditions are set by lender. 

FAFSA and How to Apply

What is FAFSA? The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a free online application that students and their families fill out for federal financial aid. Many states and colleges also use the FAFSA to grant state and institutional aid. You can submit the FAFSA online on the Federal Student Aid website. You will need to create an FSA ID to access and sign the FAFSA. If you’re a dependent student, your parents will need to create their own FSA ID’s as well.

What information do I need to apply for FAFSA? The FAFSA asks for personal and financial information. Students will fill out contact details along with providing their social security number or resident ID. Students will also need to indicate up to 10 colleges to receive FAFSA information. Students or their parents will also provide information from the prior year’s tax return. Beyond gross income, FAFSA will ask for your bank account balance, investments and recurring expenses. 

How often do you submit FAFSA? Students and their parents will need to submit the FAFSA every year to remain eligible for federal student aid. After filling it out the first time, you can submit a renewal FAFSA in subsequent years. The website will automatically fill in most of your information from the previous year. Be sure to double-check that everything is correct. 

Should I file for FAFSA even if I don’t think I will qualify for aid? Don’t neglect to fill out the FAFSA even if you think you won’t qualify. There’s no income cutoff for financial aid. Some schools rely on the FAFSA form to award scholarships. Filling out the FAFSA will also protect you in the event your financial circumstances change. 

What are the FAFSA deadlines? The FAFSA application typically opens on Oct. 1. Some colleges and states, however, set earlier deadlines for financial aid. It’s important to check with your college to see if it sets its own FAFSA deadline. Since financial aid is distributed first-come, first-served basis, it’s a good idea to submit your FAFSA as close to Oct. 1 as possible. The deadline for 2021-22 school year is June 30, 2022, at 11:59 pm CST. If you miss your college’s FAFSA deadline, contact the financial aid office. As for FAFSA, you will have access to it until the end of the school year. If you don’t apply for that school year, fill out the FAFSA for the following year instead. 

Expected Family Contribution (EFC)

After you submit their FAFSA, the government will look at your information and use it to calculate your Expected Family Contribution. The EFC is how much you and your family are expected to pay for your education based on income. Once your EFC is determined, it’s up to your college to put together your financial aid package. Your college’s financial aid office determines need-based aid by subtracting your EFC from its total cost of attendance. Note that colleges don’t necessarily meet your full financial need and you might need to look into other options like loans to help you cover tuition and fees.

Cost of Attendance (COA)

Your cost of attendance is the total amount it will cost you to go to school for one academic year before financial aid. This includes the cost of tuition and fees, room and board, textbooks, supplies and living expenses. Colleges adjust their COA every year which means the COA for you will differ from year to year.


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