Gear up for financial aid
High school seniors should seriously consider college financial aid for the upcoming school year.
In addition to private scholarships, federal financial aid is available for students attending two-year or four-year, public or private, career or trade colleges and schools. The aid is intended to cover expenses such as tuition, room and board, books, other supplies and transportation. Most students receive the aid based on financial need.
Students can receive federal financial aid in the form of grants, loans or work-study. Grants are financial awards that do not have to be repaid. Examples include Pell Grants and Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants. Loans are money you borrow and must repay. The best loans are those that are subsidized by the federal or your state government. These generally carry lower interest rates. Work-study provides jobs, usually on campus, so students can help pay for education expenses.
To find out about federal financial aid programs and your rights and responsibilities under these programs, read "Funding Education Beyond High School: The Guide to Federal Student Aid" from the U.S. Department of Education at studentaid.ed.gov/guide. You also can request a free paper copy by contacting the U.S. Department of Education at 1-800-4-FED-AID. The guide is available in both English and Spanish.
Also, be sure to check out the ACT website at actstudent.org/finaid. You'll find a good financial aid overview in easy-to-understand language, plus a list of resources to contact for more information on loans, scholarships and government programs.
How to apply for financial aid
If you're planning to attend college next fall, January is the time to file your Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Information from the FAFSA is used to determine your eligibility for the federal student aid programs mentioned above—grants, loans and work-study.
You can get the FAFSA:
- online at www.fafsa.ed.gov
- from your school counselor
- from a college financial aid office
- from a local public library
- from the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243)
Make sure you check financial aid deadlines! The FAFSA will list deadlines for federal and state aid. Also check the requirements at the colleges you're interested in applying to. Some require additional financial aid forms.
Beware of college financial aid myths
College application season is in full swing. As you apply to colleges and see how much they cost, don't let fears overshadow an otherwise exciting time in your life. The key is to avoid the financial myths surrounding the price of a higher education.
Myth #1: Everyone pays the “sticker price” for college.
Many students add the tuition price, textbook fees and the cost of living and say there is no way they can afford college. The truth is most college students require some form of financial aid. Don't ignore college because of its "sticker price." Colleges award financial aid on their own and you may receive a combination of grants, scholarships or work-study jobs to help reduce your out-of-pocket costs.
Myth #2: You have to be very poor, very smart or very talented to qualify for financial aid.
Financial aid comes in many forms—grants and scholarships, which you don't have to repay, and loans, which you do have to repay. There is need-based aid for students of lower income families, and merit-based aid for students who excel in academics, athletics, music, community service and many other areas. Financial aid sources vary—the federal government, the college or university itself, even a parent's employer—may all offer some form of financial assistance. Explore all the possibilities; you might be pleasantly surprised.
Myth #3: You can get more scholarships by paying someone to search for you.
Scholarship scams are everywhere. Beware of any group or individual who guarantees a scholarship if you pay a fee. There are many good and FREE scholarship sources on the Internet. We suggest you check out fastweb.com or finaid.org for more information.
Myth #4: If you pay for college, your parents' salaries don't matter.
For a majority of students, need-based financial aid is based on both the student's and parents' income and assets—whether or not the parents plan to help financially. Most schools require students to fill out complete family financial information on the FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, in order to qualify for need-based aid. The form, available online at www.fafsa.ed.gov, asks for information similar to what's filed for income taxes. After submitting the FAFSA, you receive a report that shows the expected family contribution to pay toward your education.
Myth #5: You can wait until you get accepted to a college before worrying about financial aid.
While most colleges have their own sources of financial aid, there are several independent programs that award scholarship funds on a first-come first-served basis. It’s not a lot of fun filling out the applications, but it’s safe to say you’ll be glad you did if you earn some free financial assistance.
Financial aid terms
The following are some key financial aid terms:
Aid package ― A combination of aid (possibly including a scholarship, grant, loan or work) determined by a college financial aid office.
Expected Family Contribution (EFC) ― an amount you and your family are expected to contribute toward your education. It is used in determining eligibility for federal student aid.
Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) ― the application required for students to be considered for federal student financial aid. Obtain a FAFSA form or electronic filing information from a high school or college for the appropriate school year. The FAFSA is processed free of charge and used by most state agencies and colleges.
Grants ― awards, usually based on financial need, which do not require repayment. Grants are available through the federal government, state agencies and educational institutions.
Scholarships ― Awards to students based on merit or merit plus need that do not have to be repaid.
Student Aid Report (SAR) ― Your Student Aid Report (SAR) summarizes all the information you provided on your FAFSA. Your SAR will usually contain your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), the number used in determining your eligibility for federal student aid. You will receive your SAR by e-mail within 3–5 days after your FAFSA has been processed, if you provided an e-mail address when you applied. This e-mail will contain a secure link so you can access your SAR online.
You will receive a paper SAR by mail within 7–10 days after your FAFSA has been processed, if you do not provide an e-mail address when you apply. Whether you apply online or by paper, we will automatically send your data electronically to the schools you listed on your FAFSA.
Information provided by News You Can Use published by ACT.
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Sign up for a FAFSA PIN before filling out a FAFSA application. Doing so avoids the time delays that would occur after applying for the FAFSA using actual signatures and sending it in via snail mail. Utilizing a FAFSA PIN reduces the amount of time taken for the application process. To apply for a FAFSA PIN, go to http://pin.ed.gov and select "Apply For A PIN" located in the left menu. Have on hand your social security number, email address and an easily remembered, but not obvious, four-digit number to use as your PIN.
After applying for and activating the FAFSA PIN, you will be able to use it to sign the FAFSA application only. Once the information supplied is verified by the Social Security Administration within one to three days, the FAFSA PIN can be used to access other student financial aid sites and to edit the student aid report.