Making Financial Aid Work for You

The cost of a college education is becoming increasingly higher over time. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, tuition and accommodation cost about $17,797 at public institutions. At private nonprofit institutions, it was $46,014 and $26, 261 at private for-profit institutions in 2016/2017.

As college education is so expensive, financial aid helps students sponsor their education by covering its expenses. Financial aid does not come from yourself, your family, or friends but external parties such as the government or organizations. It typically covers one or more of these expenses: tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, and transportation.

Types of Financial Aid

There are several types of financial aid options available. These include the following:

1.      Student Loans

These are some of the most common types of financial aid. It includes borrowing money to fund your education in college. Student loans are meant to be paid over some time and usually include interest. The longer you hold student loans, the longer it accrues interest.

2.     Scholarships

You can obtain financial aid ‘freely’ through a scholarship. A large number of organizations offer scholarships to help students pay for school. Sometimes, your college also provides scholarships if you meet specific criteria. Suppose you need financial aid to go through college. In that case, you should search for scholarship opportunities in that area of study or find out if your academic merit qualifies you for some scholarships. You could also obtain partial or full scholarships. In some cases, you could combine two or more partial scholarships to cover your expenses.

3.     Work-Study Jobs

Through the Federal Work-Study program, you can work part-time while schooling. The money earned from your work would help you pay education expenses. This is available to undergraduate, postgraduate, and professional students who need aid.

The jobs could be off-campus or on-campus, but the program recommends that they are as closely related to your course of study as possible.

4.    Study Grants

Just like scholarships, grants are a form of financial aid that do not require repayment. They could come from your federal or state government or a private/non-profit organization. Like scholarships, they are usually available for a given period, and most have a limit to the number of grantees. As such, it is essential to keep your eyes peeled out for such opportunities and apply for them as soon as you find them.

5.     Federal or State Government Aid

The federal and state government also offer some forms of financial aid programs. They are usually tied to service to society, such as the education awards for community service with AmeriCorps and scholarships for Military families.  Particular disciplines could also offer these aid programs. This is so in the case of the National Institute of Health financial aid program.

Applying Through the FAFSA and the CSS Profile

There are two key ways to access financial aid for college; the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile.

As the U.S. Department of Education sponsors FAFSA, you need it to access any form of federal aid and most college and state government aid. You should submit your FAFSA as soon as it opens (early in October) for the following academic year. You must also renew your FAFSA each academic year, or you will not qualify for continued funding.

The CSS Profile, sponsored by the College Board, is used by about 400 colleges and universities to give students non-government financial aid. If the college you’re applying to uses the CSS Profile, submit yours at about the same time you submit your FAFSA (at the beginning of October). As is the case with FAFSA, renew every academic year if you still need financial aid, or you would like to renew your financial aid.

Accessing Financial Aid

Considering the huge amount it costs to obtain a college education, it is no wonder that there is such stiff competition around funding it. These two tips would help you stay ahead of many to access financial aid.

1.      Get Started on Time

The best time to have started planning for financial aid was yesterday. You do not need to begin the search for financial assistance just before you need it. It is advisable to start searching for appropriate and relevant financial aid long before you need it. This is because there are so many people with the same idea as you―they want to access financial assistance to enable them to go through college.

There are several ways to stay abreast of financial aid opportunities. This includes speaking to your high school counselor about scholarship or grant opportunities that may be open to you for university education.

If you are a parent, you can get started looking for financial aid opportunities as early as when your child is in middle school! The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) Office of Federal Student Aid publishes a College Preparation Checklist that illustrates a plan for funding your education from whatever point you are in life to college level.

2.     Pay Attention to Open-dates and Deadlines

One of the worst things that could happen to you is realizing you were eligible for a particular form of financial aid, but you missed the deadline. To avoid this sticky situation, you should keep track of application deadlines for financial aid opportunities.

For many opportunities, the open-dates are routine and fall around the same time each year. When you do your research, you can determine which ones you need to prepare your application for. This would mean that you never have to miss a deadline, significantly increasing your chances of getting financial aid for your education.

Accessing financial aid is usually a hectic process, but you can make it easier if you follow the right procedures. Find the type of financial aid that fits you, apply for several of them, and you should secure one!

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