Applying for Financial Aid? Best Tips to Get You Started


Paying for school is not always easy. Whether your parents help you or you are applying for a student loan/financial aid, it can be a lot to consider.  When you start the financial planning process, it can be stressful.  Attempting to figure out a way to afford the education you want, takes planning.  There are an estimated 44.7 million Americans with student-loan debt.  In 2018, 69% of college students took out student loans.

There are many avenues for financial aid, and federal aid is always need-based.  Federal student loans are available for any student.  The private sector also provides student loans, through different lending institutions.  Financial aid will be grants based on financial need.  Scholarships through schools or other organizations are acceptable.  Federal loans or federal work-study is also an option.

Understand Your Eligibility

Part of the application process should start with some basic information.  You will need identification documents for the forms you are filling out.  To qualify for federal student aid, such as grants, loans, and work-study funds, you must prove financial need.  This is the difference between the cost of attendance at the school and your expected family contribution.  Along with this, you must be a U.S. citizen.  You will need a valid social security number and need to be enrolled in a school or accepted as a regular student. You must maintain satisfactory academic progress to continue receiving federal student aid each year, and need to maintain your eligible status.  This comes down to making progress on your degree.  You must refile your FAFSA ( Federal Application for Federal Student Aid) every year.  Before filing, gather the documents you need for identification: your tax returns and information about all other income sources.

Stay on Top of the Administrative Work and Know Your Deadlines

There is a finite amount of financial aid available.  The financial aid allocated comes on a first-come-first-serve basis.  This means you must complete your FAFSA as soon as you can, to maximize what you can receive.  There are some important dates for filing, found at the FAFSA website, including information for your state.  You should not wait to file your taxes before filing your FAFSA, because the application does ask for tax return information.  You need to include your parents on your FAFSA forms, even if you pay your own bills and file your individual taxes.  Provide your parent’s financial information, regardless if they contribute to your education costs or not.  You can submit your application more than once.  Also, search for other options if financial aid does not cover most of your college costs.

Consider Scholarships and Grants Before Loans

Financial aid can be a good place to start when you are looking for funding for school.  Yet, it may not cover all your education costs.  Scholarships and grants can be excellent resources because you don’t pay them back.  There are extensive resources for student financial aid.

This includes scholarships/grants, and student programs and internships.  Every state has this information available for you to look at.  If you do end up choosing loans, private student loans are another avenue to think about.  Many schools will point you towards preferred lenders for student loans, but you should do your own research and pick the right lender.

If All Goes Well, prepare for a Financial Package and Money you Provide Yourself

If you did end up qualifying for financial aid, it may not all come in the form of a grant or a gift aid.  The need-aid that is given, is almost always done as a financial-aid package, which may consist of a grant, a subsidized student loan, and work-study.  The total amount of aid given may even fall short of the amount that you were eligible for.  This is a shortfall, which is the extra amount you must provide yourself, besides the expected family contribution.  More importantly, do not count yourself out and do not fall into the misconception that there is an income cut off for financial aid.

Finally, prepare for complications.  You will be filling out endless forms, with some forms being more complex than others. But, the basic aid application form is not as complicated as it looks.  Gather all your information first, and take your time inputting the data.

Take advantage of the money you can receive, which does not have to be paid back.  There are scary statistics showing that the American student-loan debt is upwards of 1.56 trillion dollars.  This is spread across 45 million borrowers.  Paying for school does not have to be stressful, because you can use the resources you have available.  Financial aid is a useful option to consider. The information accessed through federal and private resources will help you.


Jon Kelly is a part-time writer and Internet enthusiast. His background in digital marketing (since 2004) has led him to develop a passion for technology and education. He works for, an award-winning agency in Vancouver, Canada. You can also find him on his personal website, and business site


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