With the start of the new year comes the workload and stress of applying for financial aid for the coming years of college. To make the process easier, the basics of filing the free application for federal student aid will be explained here.
Every year, students have between Jan. 1 and June 30 to apply. Aid provided by the government, state or college includes grants, loans and work-study programs.
Grants, like scholarships, are a type of financial aid that does not need to be paid back. However, grants are based on financial need rather than merit.
A loan is money borrowed from a bank, financial institution or the federal government that must be paid back with interest. Federal loans tend to have lower interest rates, making them a very attractive option.
The work-study program allows students to pay for their education through a part time job. Jobs can be provided on-campus with the school or off-campus with a public or nonprofit organization.
In order to receive aid, applicants must fit the FAFSA eligibility requirements:
• They must have financial need (calculated as difference between expected family contribution and cost of attendance).
• They must be an American citizen or eligible non-citizen (i.e. Green Card holder).
• They must have a valid Social Security number.
• They must be registered with Selective Service if male.
• They must be enrolled in or accepted to college.
• They must keep up satisfactory academic records throughout college.
• They may not default on any federal loans.
• They may only use the aid for education.
• They must have a high school diploma or GED.
There are three options for filing a FAFSA. Applicants may file online, send a printed PDF version or request a paper application through the mail. The fastest and easiest option is via the Internet.
When filing online, it is recommended the applicant request their federal student aid PIN before starting the process. The PIN is used to electronically sign the FAFSA form.
To request a PIN, visit www.pin.ed.gov and be prepared to give a name, date of birth, Social Security number and address. Applicants may create their own PIN or have the site generate one. If the site makes one, it can be viewed online, be sent via email or received through the mail, depending on the applicant’s preference.
While completing the FAFSA, be prepared to provide financial information, such as taxes and savings and checking account balances. Having the following on hand may also be useful:
• Social Security numbers of applicant and parents.
• Driver’s license.
• Alien registration number (non-citizens).
• Tax returns.
• Records of untaxed income (i.e. child support, interest income).
Applicants may choose to list 10 schools on their online FAFSA. The first choice college should be listed first and so on. Results will be sent to these schools once the file has been processed.
Before having it processed, the FAFSA must be signed electronically with the PIN. Once it has been submitted, a confirmation email will be sent.
Three days to three weeks later, the student aid report, a summary of the student’s FAFSA information, will be sent out. Depending on the school, applicants will start to receive financial aid “awards,” which they may choose to accept or decline.
For those only wanting an estimate of financial aid, there is an application called “FAFSA4caster” at www.fafsa.ed.gov.
Students who are preparing for college or are already attending have the option of applying for private scholarships as well. There are scholarships specifically for athletics, religious organizations, ethnic groups, nationalities and more. Some may require an essay or interview, while others simply ask for a completed application.
The following search engines do not sell your information and are great at finding scholarships that match the applicant’s interests, academic record or financial need: