Over the past ten years, the cost of a college education has climbed by nearly 90 percent. This is a staggering expense for both students hoping to complete their higher education and their families. But, the good news is that there is no need to bear this cost by yourself. Paying for college is now a partnership that includes your college or school of choice, the government, your family and even a number of private businesses and organizations. Another belief is that student financial aid is only available for those with an annual income of less than $70,000. But, this is not true anymore. There are several schools that offer aid to talented and deserving students.
Where Do You Begin?
The majority of grants and loans available are courtesy of the federal government. There are a number of guidelines and eligibility criteria that determines whether a student will receive college financial aid. Researching on the internet could help you come up with some preliminary calculations that will make you understand what could be expected. You could also speak to your school guidance counselor to explore all your options and visit ed.gov/index.jhtml to find out more about college student financial aid.
If you want to apply for federal or state aid, you will need to supply all the information required by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form. You can complete the form online or download it from fafsa.org. Most public colleges and universities use this information to determine whether aid is applicable or not and many private schools also factor it into their offers. Alternatively, schools and organizations that offer scholarships also use a second form – the College Scholarship Service Profile. These forms need to be filled up for every year that you apply for aid so plan in advance and keep all your financial information such as tax forms, pay stubs and bank account statements readily accessible.
Once the college or school of your choice receives your FAFSA, it considers your EFC (Expected Family Contribution) with reference to the cost of your college degree program. The EFC is determined by a number of factors like family income, assets, the number of children in the family attending college and the number of years until your parent’s retirement.
If you feel that your family has special financial circumstances that is not reflected in these scores but are still affecting your ability to pay for college, it is worth sending a letter and speaking to the college’s financial aid office after you submit all the necessary paperwork.
Grants are categorized on the basis of needs and merits and can be federal, state or institutional. Grants are normally tax-free and don’t have to be repaid. The Pell Grant (a maximum of $3,300 annually) and the federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (from $100 to $4,000 annually) are the largest federal grants available. These are non-negotiable and based on needs. Pell Grants are specifically awarded to students from low-income families.
Nearly 60 percent of student aid is in the form of loans. These include subsidized loans that carry low interest rates and don’t have to be repaid until after graduation. The federal Perkins Loan allows students to borrow up to $4,000 a year for five years at a very low interest rate. The Stafford Loan also carries a low interest rate. Repayments begin and interest starts accruing only six months after graduation. Unsubsidized Stafford loans on the other hand accrue interest immediately but the student can defer this interest payment until after he or she begins to repay the principal amount (normally after graduation). When students accept a federally subsidized loan, they will be expected to work at on-campus jobs for 10 to 15 hours a week as part of the federal Work-Study program. Parents can also borrow up to the total cost of four years of college as per the Parent Loans for Undergraduate Students (PLUS). However, the repayment structure on this type of loan is extremely stringent.
It’s best to speak to your financial aids officer at the college or school of your choice to determine your eligibility. On the whole, eligibility for loans and grants depends upon-
– Financial need
– Qualification for postsecondary education. Proof of the same includes a high school diploma or a General Education Development (GED) Certificate or passing scores on an Ability-to-Benefit (ATB) test.
– Proof of U.S. citizenship or eligible non-citizenship
– Social Security Number information
– Maintenance of academic progress once in school
Even if you aren’t eligible for college Student Financial Aid, it is still recommended that you complete the FAFSA as you may be eligible for non-federal aid from other private organizations or states.
Financial aid applications are filed in January each year so be sure to have all the information you require before then. In case you receive aid from a number of schools apart from the college of your choice, do not forget to decline the other offers so that they can distribute the aid to other students. In the end, a practical, methodical approach to funding and your education is the only way to enjoy all the benefits on offer and secure your future in the long run.