Student Financial Aid for College: How to Apply for Financial Aid

Student Financial Aid for College: How to Apply for Financial Aid

Posted 05.23.2012 in Articles by Caitlin

Getting a college education is probably the single most important thing anyone can do to have a successful career. However, a college education is an expensive prospect, and not something that most people can pay for out of pocket. Fortunately, financial aid for college students in the form of grants or loans is widely available. Learning about the different kinds of financial aid that are available, who is eligible for this assistance and how to maintain eligibility is essential to financing a college education.

Perhaps the most desirable form of student financial aid is the grant, because the money, similar to a scholarship, does not have to be repaid. Many grants come from private sources and have a competitive selection process. The grant application process varies for each grant, but usually applicants must write an essay and meet certain other qualifications. For example, some grants are for specific races or genders, or have a minimum GPA or a family income that falls below a certain threshold.

Other grants are offered by the federal government. Perhaps the best known among these is the Pell Grant, for undergraduates from families with low incomes. Applicants for the Pell Grant must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, and the government will determine the student's need. Students are not guaranteed to receive funds from the Pell Grant, and additionally, one grant probably will not cover the cost of an education. Many students apply for a variety of grants and combine those awards with loans to cover the costs.

Perhaps the most important thing people can do when they are looking for student financial aid is to fill out the FAFSA. As mentioned, the FAFSA can be used to apply for the Pell Grant, but it is also the instrument through which students may apply for federal student loans.

Some students are eligible for a federal Perkins loans. These students demonstrate exceptional financial need and must pay these funds back to their school. Many students take out Direct Stafford Loans. These Stafford loans may be either subsidized or unsubsidized. With a subsidized loan, students must demonstrate financial need. These students do not pay interest on borrowed money while they are enrolled in school. Students who take out unsubsidized loans are not required to demonstrate financial need. The interest on these loans begins accruing immediately after the loan is made, whether the student is attending school or not. Parents of a dependent student may apply for financial aid on their behalf with a Direct PLUS loan.

When it comes to financial aid for college, it’s important to begin planning early. This is especially true for people interested in grants. The grant application process can be time consuming and most grants have strict application deadlines. Grants can be hard to find, so persistence is a necessary component. Students still in high school can check with their guidance counselors, who often can provide leads for suitable grants. College students can rely on the financial aid office or their academic department at school. Professionals in these offices should be familiar with methods for how to apply for financial aid, including where to find grants. It is also easier for students to find grants when they are active and involved. Enroll in diverse classes and sign up for extracurricular activities. Join a sports team or a club at school. Any of these activities may lead to a grant.

Qualifying for federal student aid is fairly simple. U.S. residents who have completed high school and are enrolled at an institution in a degree or certificate program are typically qualified. As long as the student maintains satisfactory academic progress, they should continue to be qualified to receive loans.

Students who have learned how to apply for financial aid should understand that they must maintain their eligibility to receive funds. Most often, this means attending school at least half time and maintaining adequate academic progress. Students in receipt of federal funds must also maintain a clean criminal record. Students convicted for a drug or sexual offense may find that they are ineligible for aid.

Those who start the process early and work diligently toward financing their education will find that plenty of grants and loans exist to help them in this important endeavor. Start by filling out the FAFSA and browsing for grants from public and private sources. By being well informed, well prepared, and mindful of deadlines, anyone can successfully finance a college certificate or degree.

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