BY RICK RIDDLE
Every year, college students sit down, often with their parents to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This is the document that is used to determine how much money the student is entitled to receive towards their education. These funds come in the form of grants that do not need to be paid off, loans that do need to be paid off, and work study.
Filling out these forms can be both frustrating and intimidating, and many students worry that they will make a mistake that could result in them losing out on financial aid. Parents may also worry that they will be expected to pay for more than they are able.
Here’s a bit of good news. The process is not as intimidating as you might think. Here are ten important pieces of information that all students should know about financial aid.
- You Need to Get Your Financial Aid Forms Filled Out as Soon as Possible
The sooner you apply for financial aid, the better. First, doing so will get your information online and available to your schools of choice. You will also have the benefit of knowing as soon as possible exactly how much money you can count on. If you plan on applying for other types of aid, filling out your FAFSA early may put you on the short list with state and private agencies.
- Your State Might Offer Financial Aid Over And Above What The Feds do
As you are filling out your financial aid forms, take a few moments to see if your state offers any type of grants or other financial aid. Remember that the more help that you can get, the better off you will be.
If you are applying to a public school or university, be sure to check out their rules about in state or in district tuition. If you live within a certain geographic area, you might qualify for in state tuition even if you live in another state. This can save you quite a bit of money on tuition and other fees.
- Beware! Not All Student Loans Are The Same
Once you begin applying to schools, you will start receiving mailers about student loans. Be careful! Most of these are not federally backed student loans. Instead, they are high interest student loans offered through private lending institutions. Sometimes you will pay more than four times the amount of interest than you would through a federal student loan.
Be sure you exhaust your options with federal student loans and parents plus loans before you start pursuing loans through fully private entities. You will save yourself and your parents money. Plus you won’t qualify for any kind of deferment with these private loans.
- Some Students Could Qualify For Student Loan Forgiveness
Are you interested in a career that serves others? If you are, you could qualify for partial or total student loan forgiveness. Do a bit of research, many students pursuing teaching, nursing, social work or other similar fields may not have to repay their loans if they agree to certain conditions.
- Know if You Are a Dependent or Not
One of the key points addressed in the FAFSA is whether or not you are a dependent student. If you are a dependent, you will be required to provide information about one or both of your parents’ incomes. Then, depending on their expected family contribution you may not qualify for as much aid as you need.
However, it is possible that you do qualify as an independent student. This means that your student aid reward will be based on your income alone. Here are some of the things that could qualify you as an independent student:
- Aging Out of Foster Care
- Being an Active Member of The Military
- Getting Married
- Having a Child Whom You Support on Your Own
- Parental Abandonment or Estrangement
Your financial aid office can help you to determine if you qualify as an independent student.
- Don’t Forget About Financial Aid And Scholarships Offered Through Your School
In addition to financial aid offered through the state and federal governments, many schools also offer financial aid to qualifying students. Some of this is need based, while other aid is merit based. Do some research. You could be leaving money lying around uncollected.
- Work Study Money Can go Further Than You Think
Many work study jobs are only for a few hours each week. This may not seem like much until you realize that the pay is often tax free. This means more money ends up in your pocket than it would if you worked off campus.
- The 2017 2018 FAFSA is Available Early
Good news! You don’t have to wait until after the first of the year to fill out your FAFSA for next year. The form has been available since the first of November. You may have to go back and add in your tax return information, but at the very least you can get the remainder of the forms filled out and sent to your school.
- Filling Out The FAFSA Alone Won’t Qualify You For Student Loans
Once you fill out your FAFSA, you will learn how much you qualify for in student loans. However, this does not mean that you will get these funds. If you want to obtain a student loan, you will need to visit the website StudentLoans.Gov. There you will have to fill out more forms and undergo loan counseling. Only then will you qualify to borrow money.
- Don’t Pay Anybody to Complete Your FAFSA
Applying for financial aid may not be easy, but there is plenty of free help available to you. Don’t fall for scams offering to fill out these forms for you, or that offer financial aid guarantees in exchange for money. Your financial aid department at school or your high school guidance office will help you for free.
ConclusionHopefully now that you are armed with some good information you will be able to to maximize your financial aid award. This money can mean the difference between being able to attend school or not.
About the author: Rick Riddle is a career advisor, life coach and an up-and-coming blogger. He writes mostly about career, entrepreneurship, e-learning and blogging as a part of OKdissertations team. To keep up with his latest publications follow Rick on twitter.