Financial Aid for College -
What is Available
& How to Apply
Financial Aid comes in various packages. On this page I'll discuss federal and state grants, scholarships, federal student loans, and the means to getting the government's help, the FAFSA.
Our daughter's financial aid story is a small miracle. With my husband disabled, and myself homeschooling our child, there was no college savings plan. No way for us to monetarily help Jen attend college at all.
During her junior year of high school, Jen took an enrichment class at Home Link – Vocal Performance – and discovered that she could sing… she could sing very well. And… she discovered that she loved to sing… in fact, she felt the Lord was calling her to develop and use that ability.
A local, private university here in Eastern Washington, has an outstanding music department but the cost of attending seemed to eliminate it as a possibility. So we prayed. Then we went to visit the admissions office and learned it wasn’t that impossible after all...
Dual credits earned during high school, a high GPA (Grade Point Average), and a very high SAT score grouped with our very low income put our daughter in just the right position to receive quite a bit of financial aid.
Through scholarships, grants, and loans she will, Lord willing, complete a $120,000 Bachelor of Arts in Music for about $14,000 dollars! In today's economy, that's a minor miracle!
But what about the financial aid possibilities for your child? Your student may or may not be eligible for aid. It will depend on their grades, time invested in community service, SAT or ACT scores and your income and ability to help.
The first thing you will want to realize, is that when your student is accepted at a college, they are accepted as an adult and as being responsible for their own finances.
You will not be allowed to see any of your student’s records or talk with their financial aid advisor unless your student has signed a form giving you permission to do so.
If your student needs financial aid to attend college, you will both need to complete a FAFSA – Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
Why? Because FAFSA acts as a central clearinghouse for the information colleges need to set up their aid packages. FAFSA will send a copy of your completed application to each of the colleges you indicate, who will then use it to determine how much financial aid your student can receive.
You can find the application forms at your college admission office or you can complete them online. You will need to complete a FAFSA each year as soon after January 1st as possible for the following school year. For example – fill it out January 2010 for the 2010-2011 academic year.
Find out your college's deadline for accepting FAFSA applications for that year. Be sure you file in plenty of time because financial aid is given on a ‘first come, first served’ basis.
Once they receive your FAFSA information, your college's financial aid office will put together your student’s package and send out a Financial Award Letter. For us, this happens in May or June for the following fall semester.
In the fall, your student will have a financial aid account with a credit balance (the grants and scholarships and loan monies they have received). All tuition, insurance, room and board, etc. will be deducted from this account. Check with the F.A. office to find out how to pay for books, extra fees, etc. as this can vary from place to place. If any balance owing remains, your student will be responsible to set up a payment plan to pay off that amount.
Here are the basic steps for taking care of the FAFSA:
- Pick up a form and instructions or visit the website
- Gather the information you will need to complete the form – a list is given on the website.
- Get your pin numbers. If you fill out the application online, you and your student will each need a personal government pin number to act as an electronic signature. The FAFSAwebsite has a link to get them.
- Fill out the application carefully.
- Verify your information.
- Sign it – either physically or electronically using your government pins.
- Mail it or Submit it.
The FAFSA requires information from your latest tax returns. Since you should be filing the FAFSA in January you may not have that information yet. Many employers do not send out their W-2s until January 31st and you will need the adjusted gross income for each person filing in your family.
Once you do complete your tax returns, you will need to return to the FAFSA website and make corrections to those items that reflect tax return figures and then resubmit the application.
Don’t wait until your tax return is completed to submit your original FAFSA however. That first submission is what determines your place in the financial aid line. Making corrections later doesn’t alter that place.
Check with your college’s financial aid office for any policies that may differ from these general guidelines.
Federal and State Grants
Grants are gifts based on need. They do not have to be repaid.
The Federal Government offers several and most states have at least one.
Grants do have a certain level of accountability. They must be used for the intended purpose and are, therefore, administered by the college.
The amount of each grant is determined by the level of need and increases somewhat each year to accommodate rises in cost of living.
Your college’s financial aid office will decide which grants your child may be eligible for and award them to your student’s financial aid account.
Financial Aid in the form of scholarships are also gifts and never need to be repaid. They can come from many different sources. Businesses, trust funds, organizations, private individuals, and colleges themselves often offer scholarships. Each entity will have its own rules, deadlines, and qualifications for applying for and receiving their monies. Amounts vary greatly and may be stated up front or decided later based on the winning applicant.
Scholarships from the college your student will attend should be the first ones you look into. Help your student do their best to meet any requirements and to submit the applications on time.
Next, check with local businesses and organizations – your local high school may have a list – and contact them to learn how to apply. They will often favor local students.
Use the internet to find opportunities. Fastweb.com lists thousands of scholarships along with their requirements, deadlines, and usually amounts. You will fill out a questionnaire so that FastWeb can match you with scholarships that you qualify to apply for. There are other websites like Fastweb, (Google 'scholarship directories) but watch out! There are scams out there. Never pay for scholarship information. There are also lists of scholarships available through most libraries.
After your student’s application is submitted to an organization, it will go to their scholarship committee who will decide if it meets their standards. It will probably go through several rounds of culling. Neatness and clarity is very important. If the application is sloppy or incomplete, it will never make it through the first round of cuts.
I have even seen books whose entire purpose is just to teach your student how to have the best shot at getting a scholarship. It is that competitive.
If your student wins a scholarship, they will be contacted. If they don't win, they may never hear back from the committee at all. There are just too many applicants.
Most scholarships will require the student to write an essay either on a topic of their own choice or one provided by the committee.
Based on the scholarship summaries I have read, the committees are looking for :
- Good grades - this shows the student is capable and ready to do college work and will provide a good return on their investment in them.
- Community service work – showing the student knows how to be a good citizen and contribute to society.
- Leadership Potential - demonstrating that the student has the ability to influence and guide others for the common good.
- Neatness, Organization, and Clarity of Expression - showing good personal habits and communication abilities.
Scholarships can make funding a college education possible but they require a definite investment of thought and time on the part of the student with no guarantee of receiving any money in return.
Federal Student Loans
If the free financial aid available to your student is not enough to cover their expenses, they may qualify for federal student loans. I know of just two – the Perkins Loan and the Stafford Loan. There may be more. If you find others please let me know and I will add them.
Federal loans are offered interest free until some months after graduation. The student must then pay them back but at a fairly low fixed rate of interest. Each loan has a set limit and the student may borrow all or some of that amount.
I suggest that, if possible, your student should try to use money from summer or part-time jobs to pay back as much of their loans as they can while they are still in school. The less debt they have when they graduate, the better!
Check with your college’s financial aid office to learn the specifics and to get help deciding if one or both of the federal loans are right for your student.
Have you found a good financial aid resource that I haven’t covered? Please use the form below to tell me about it so I can share it here. Thank you!
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