With the cost of a college education rising each year, you’ll want to take advantage of all the federal student aid that you can qualify for. Spring means that you may be filing for aid and meeting your FAFSA deadlines for submitting paperwork. Now is a good time to review a few of the important points about student aid.
FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It’s the form that begins the process of qualifying for Federal student aid. New FAFSA forms are issued each January. You can get yours from your financial aid office or by going to the official FAFSA site.
The FAFSA form is used to figure out how much and what kind of aid you qualify for. Here is the breakdown:
- grants: money for school that does not have to be repaid
- loans: only borrow what you need because loans must be repaid with interest
- work-study: under a Federal Work-Study Program you work part-time while in school and receive an hourly wage. You may work on or off-campus. The amount you earn cannot exceed your Federal Work-Study award.
- state aid: each state has at least one grant or scholarship program available to its residents
- other aid: some aid, such as the Federal Pell Grant and some private scholarships, require you to submit a FAFSA to establish your eligibility
The online FAFSA application deadline for the 2013-2014 year is June 30, 2014, at midnight, Central time. Each state has its own deadline for submission of forms. Some of the federal aid programs are dispersed on a first come, first served basis so it pays to get your application in early.
The general eligibility requirements for federal student aid include:
- financial need
- U.S. citizenship or considered an eligible noncitizen
- a valid Social Security number
- registration with Selective Service (males only)
- acceptance as a regular student in an eligible degree or certificate program
For a full list of requirements and an explanation of how they apply to you, talk to your financial aid representative at your school or check with the Department of Education website. Be sure to file a FAFSA form even if you’re not sure that you qualify for aid. Who knows, there might be some kind of assistance even if it is a student loan with a low interest rate.
Two kinds of aid
According to Ellen Cannon, there are two types of financial aid. In her September 20, 2012, article for BusinessInsider.com titled, “15 Things You Need To Know About Financial Aid,” Cannon outlined how the two types work.
“There are two kinds of financial aid: gift aid (i.e., ‘free’ money) and self-help aid (i.e., loans). Most aid today is self-help aid. Your family’s financial need is the dominant factor in determining your eligibility,” Cannon said.
Factors that will be considered when evaluating your financial need include:
- the income and assets of the student (weighed more heavily than those of the parents)
- the earned income and assets of the parents
- the adjusted gross income of the parents (earned income plus income, less losses from other sources)
Notice that the equity in the parents’ home is not counted. So your parents don’t have to worry if they are house-rich and cash-poor. Also not counted as assets are: personal property, annuities, cash value of life insurance and retirement accounts.
If your parents are divorced, you’ll report only the income and assets of the parent that you lived with during the previous 12 months whether that parent claimed you as a dependent or not.
Ideas to keep college costs in check
Here are a few ideas on how you can keep the cost of your degree affordable.
- live at home while attending school
- attend a community college for the first two years of college
- attend a college in your state instead of going out-of-state
- take a heavier course load so that you can finish sooner
- ask your employer about tuition assistance
- check out how government or military service can pay part of your federal student loans
Federal aid isn’t the only game in town. Check with your financial aid office about state programs and private organizations that offer scholarships and other forms of aid for students.
Do you receive federal student aid? Tell us about your experiences with using federal aid to pay for your schooling in the comments below.