Top Ways for College Students to Find Financial Aid Options

financial aid

If you’ve ever filled out a college application, then you know that the process is both thrilling and terrifying. It’s thrilling because you stand on the precipice of what may be a life-changing journey and it’s simultaneously terrifying for a wide variety of reasons including what may be at the top of your list – How am I going to pay for my education?

For most undergraduate and graduate students, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the starting point for funding their educations. This form needs to be filled out annually by both current and prospective college students to determine their eligibility for financial aid and applicants can list multiple schools to receive the results of the application once it is processed.

Below are some quick tips to be mindful of:

  1. 1. Submit your FAFSA as soon as possible for the 2019-2020 academic year or download the FAFSA mobile app on iOS and Android
  2. 2. Do not wait until you submit your admission’s application to file your FAFSA
  3. 3. Ensure that your social security number is correct on your FAFSA because this error is difficult to correct
  4. 4. Use the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) Data Retrieval Tool to complete your FAFSA if possible
  5. 5. Make sure your answers on the FAFSA are accurate and remember that it is mandatory to resubmit the FAFSA for each year you are enrolled in college 
  6. 6. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask your financial aid office for help as that is what they are there for or call 1.800.4FED.AID 

Additionally, it’s key to research scholarships that you may be eligible for. FastWeb is a reputable and free website that is helpful to visit when kicking off your search.  You should also consider any civic and religious organizations to which you (or your parents) belong that might help to support your studies. If you are employed and eligible for a tuition benefit, apply to receive it and learn as much as possible about federal loan programs. 

Undergraduate Students

As an undergraduate student, upon submitting the FAFSA, you will be evaluated for federal grants, loans and work-study options. At many colleges, you will also be assessed for available institutional scholarships and grants. Be aware that some colleges require additional applications for their funds. Many states use the FAFSA to evaluate you for a grant from your state of residence, yet if you are a New York resident a separate application is required. 

Many students are eligible for a combination of financial aid scholarships, grants and loans to assist with tuition, fees and books as well as living expenses like housing and food, so don’t miss out on this opportunity.

Graduate Students

The options for financial assistance from federal and state programs for graduate students are unfortunately almost entirely limited to loans. As a graduate student, you should be able to borrow up to $20,500 via a federal unsubsidized student loan for each academic year of study (as long as you are at least a half time student). You could also borrow up to the Cost of Attendance in the Graduate PLUS loan if you need to cover your living expenses. The Graduate PLUS loan, unlike the unsubsidized student loan, requires a credit check for approval. 

Your graduate program may offer institutional scholarships/grants and you should contact the college to ask if that assistance is available and how to apply. You should also ask if the college offers assistantships, which typically require a work commitment in exchange for tuition relief. Your college may be able to provide information about any potential employers known to them that repay a portion of the employee’s student loans as an employment incentive as well.

Graduating from college with the least amount of student loan debt possible is incredibly important, so don’t delay starting this process as doing so could prevent you from qualifying for grant and scholarship money.

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