Financial Aid for Students
College costs vary widely, but many students receive some form of financial aid. From scholarships and grants to student loans and subsidized work-study programs, there are a lot of options out there and you should explore every opportunity.
Step One: Filling out the “FAFSA” form. Everyone should fill out a form called the “Free Application for Federal Student Aid” or FAFSA. It’s often the first step to applying for nearly every type of financial aid—including grants and scholarships. You can apply online at www.fafsa.ed.gov.
Important: Pay attention to deadlines. The deadlines for your state or schools may be different from the federal deadlines and you may be required to complete additional forms.
Step Two: Start exploring your options. There are lots of options to help you pay for school. Explore them all—they can be mixed, matched and combined to help you cover your costs.
- Scholarships are financial awards given by service organizations, religious groups, employers, colleges and governments. Some are specifically designated for students who meet particular criteria—a star soccer player, an artist or filmmaker, an aspiring scientist or mathematician—or those who come from a particular ethnic or family background. Many are based on financial need, academic achievement (or both) and others have less conventional criteria.
– Start your search early—it’s a competition for most scholarships and getting your applications in early (and meeting the deadlines!) can be the key to success.
– Check reputable sources—school counselors, college financial advisers and employers.
– Watch out for anyone who asks you to pay a fee for “special” scholarship leads. There are free and reputable scholarship search options including the College Board, Sallie Mae, and FastWeb.
- Grants, like scholarships, are gifts of money that don’t have to be paid back. Some are offered only to students who qualify based on low income; others are given based on “merit” such as high scholastic achievement. One of the most common grants to consider is a federal Pell Grant. Millions of students receive Pell Grants and they can be as much as $5,550.
- Work-study programs. In the Federal Work-study program, open to both middle-income and lower-income students, students earn part of their tuition by taking a job on campus. The income is capped, so students may need to earn extra money by getting a part-time job.
Are you a financial rookie or a seasoned pro?
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Need help completing the FAFSA?
For a user friendly to guide to assist in filing out this form, see A How-To Guide for High School Students (And the Adults Who Help Them).
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