Graduating from high school and moving on to college is an exciting step in life. However, with the price of tuition and housing looming over many students, it can often be a stressful one as well. Fortunately, there are several avenues available to help secure financial aid for those entering the world of higher education. Financial aid is money you can apply for to help pay for college. Some financial aid will have to be repaid, and some won't. It can be used for a wide variety of college-related expenses, including tuition, books, room and board, and more. Receiving financial aid can relieve a lot of the stress that's often associated with paying for college.
To apply for financial aid, you'll first want to fill out and file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This application is reviewed by agencies and colleges throughout the country as a means of determining who qualifies for financial aid. The application is available on the U.S. Department of Education website and can be filled out starting Oct. 1 to be eligible for the next academic year. The latest the application can be filed is by June 30 for the upcoming fall semester. However, it's important to note that that deadline is only for federal financial aid; colleges may set their own deadlines earlier.
In addition to the FAFSA, you should also fill out the College Scholarship Service Profile, also known as the CSS Profile. This form is largely used by private colleges as a means of determining how to award their own financial aid separate from the government. The CSS Profile costs $25 to submit and 16$ for every submission afterward. However, undergraduates coming from a family with an income under $100,000 may file for free.
Financial aid can come in a few different forms, and these are often split into two different categories: need-based financial aid and merit-based financial aid. Need-based financial aid is determined using the FAFSA. It evaluates a household's income and determines whether or not financial assistance is required for the student to pay for college. This might come in the form of federal grants, such as a Pell Grant, or funds from other sources.
Merit-based financial aid, however, is awarded based on a student's demonstrated talent and abilities. These awards can be based on academic or athletic ability and are often awarded as scholarships. Scholarships are available from a wide variety of corporations, individuals, nonprofit organizations, and colleges, and anyone can apply for them. The requirements for being awarded a scholarship can vary a great deal from scholarship to scholarship, so it's helpful to apply for as many as you can. One of the best ways of discovering scholarships you may qualify for is by speaking with your high school guidance counselor. They will often have the most recent information pertaining to available scholarships and be able to walk you through the process of applying for them. You can also use the Internet to search for scholarships.
Another need-based type of financial aid comes from work-study programs, which allow students to work part time, usually on campus, as a means of helping them pay for college expenses. Like federal loans and grants, a student's eligibility for work-study is determined using the FAFSA. The least a student can earn through work-study is the federal minimum wage.
You can also apply for student loans to pay for college, but remember that these are loans, not scholarships or grants, so they'll need to be repaid. Federal student loans are typically provided by the government and have fixed interest rates. These rates are set by July 1 and last for the duration of the loan. The most popular option is the federal direct loan program. This program lets students take out subsidized and unsubsidized loans up to a maximum of $31,000 if they're a dependent or $57,000 if they're independent. Private student loans are also available through various financial institutions. The terms and interests rates associated with private loans can vary a great deal more than federal alternatives.