Guide to Financial Aid

Before applying for a private student loan, make sure you have thoroughly exhausted all sources of free and low-cost financial aid (such as scholarships, grants, and federal direct student loans). While the process may seem daunting, planning carefully and researching all your options can save you thousands!

Completing the FAFSA

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is your gateway to federal student loans, the cheapest form of student loans for most borrowers. You must complete this form to receive federal, state, or college money, and some scholarships and grants require it as well. The FAFSA asks basic information regarding the borrower's income, dependency status, and savings to determine financial need. It is important to fill this form out as early as possible. For more information, visit studentaid.gov.

Scholarships and Grants

Begin your search for college cash with scholarships and grants, which cost you nothing and do not have to be repaid. Remember that if a student is awarded a grant or scholarship, the college will deduct that amount from the financial aid it would otherwise have given the student.

  • Scholarships | There are numerous local and national scholarships available to students. Do your homework and apply for as many as possible. While they may not cover all of your costs, every little bit you don't have to borrow helps. Visit any of these scholarship search engines to get started, or talk to your guidance counselor or financial aid office for more resources.

    Department of Education - Free Scholarship Search Wizard

    Fastweb.com
    Scholarships.com
    Federal Student Aid Website - Additional Information and Resources
     
  • Pell Grants | These constitute the largest of the government programs. In general, families showing financial need are eligible for grants, although families with higher incomes may also be eligible under special circumstances. For more information, visit the Federal Student Aid website.
     
  • Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants (FSEOG) | For families exhibiting the greatest need, the SEOG offers grants ranging from $100 to $4,000 a year. Each participating school receives a certain amount of FSEOG funds each year from the U.S. Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid. Once the full amount of the school’s FSEOG funds has been awarded to students, no more FSEOG awards can be made for that year. This system works differently from the Federal Pell Grant Program, which provides funds to every eligible student, so make sure you apply for federal student aid as early as you can. 
     
  • State Programs | Most states provide grants based on a combination of merit and financial need. Contact your high school guidance counselor or state office of grants to learn what types of aid may be available and how to apply.
     
  • College Grants | Most institutions offer several kinds of grants based on need, scholastic achievement and/or talent in a special area. Some colleges give cash grants, while others offer tuition discounts. Contact the financial aid office for details.
     
  • Private Grants | Thousands of grants and scholarship programs are available to students with superior academic records, special interests and other qualifying characteristics. Check with employers and local, state and national organizations with which you or any member of your family may be affiliated. The local library is also an excellent reference.

Work Study

The Federal Work-Study Program permits eligible students to work on campus to help offset educational expenses and reduce loan obligations. Students from higher-income families have a better chance of getting a part-time job under this program than of getting most kinds of grants.

Loans

The federal government is by far the single largest source of financial aid to college students, but there are also state government loans, college-sponsored loans, commercial lending institutions and credit unions which also offer private student loans. Qualifying for funding involves filling out the FAFSA, and providing a detailed profile of your financial situation to potential lenders. Click here to learn more about the different types of loans available.

Ask for Help

If you've already completed the basics and you're still having trouble paying for college, or worried that your savings won't be enough, visit your college financial aid office. Their job is to help students make ends meet during college so they can get through college and graduate with the least amount of debt. They want to see you succeed, so stop in or call the office if you run into issues.  

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