How to Get Money for College

January 19, 2012

Those who are enrolling in college for the first time or who are returning after a period of absence, need to apply for financial aid. Federal financial aid can help for a certain population of students. For others, scholarships and work-study programs, in addition to loans, may be another solution. The U.S. Department of Education is the largest distributor of aid in America, which provides over $150 billion in grants, federal loans and work-study programs for students who are attending four-year colleges or universities, community colleges and career schools. So who gets the aid and what's available for you? Here's the answer to questions and how to apply.

So Who Can Get This Aid?

Eligibility depends on several factors. It's not just about your financial income, but that does play a major role in eligibility. Here are some basic rules to live by if you're applying for federal student aid.

  1. Be a U.S. citizen or an eligible non-citizen
  2. Have a valid Social Security number
  3. Register with Selective Service, if you're a male between the ages of 18 and 25
  4. Maintain satisfactory academic progress in college or career school
  5. Qualify to obtain a post-secondary education by using one of the following:
    • A high school diploma or General Educational Development (GED) certificate
    • Pass an approved ability to benefit test, if you don't have a diploma or GED certificate, a school can administer a test to determine whether you can benefit from the education offered at that school.
    • Completing six credit hours or equivalent course work towards a degree or certificate
    • Meeting other federally approved standards your state establishes
    • Completing a high school education in a homeschool setting approved under state law

What Types of Aid Are Available?

There are a few federal student aid programs for students who are going into college after high school.

  1. Grants: student aid funds that do not have to be repaid.
  2. Work-Study Programs: part-time work program to earn money while you are in school.
  3. Federal Loans: student aid funds that you must repay with interest. There are a few different types of loans.
    • Perkins
    • Direct Stafford
    • Direct PLUS (for graduate and professional degree student borrowers)
    • Direct PLUS (parent borrowers)
    • Direct Loan Consolidation

Applying for Aid

You have to first apply for federal student aid. This is important, because you have to show that you qualify and are eligible for aid. The direct route to completing an application is by going to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) on the web at FAFSA.gov. Then, you can simply follow a few steps:

  1. Gather all of the documents that you need to apply:
    • Income tax returns such as W-2 forms
    • Identification documents (social security cards, driver's licenses)
  2. Go online and apply at FAFSA on the web. The FAFSA is used as an application for all the grants that you may be eligible for, including Pell Grant, FSEOG, work-study and federal loans). Colleges, universities and career schools also use FAFSA information to put together a financial aid package. You never have to pay to complete a FAFSA. You need a PIN to sign your online FAFSA, make corrections and more. If you are a dependent student, your parent will also need one too. You can get your PIN before you begin or as you complete the FAFSA.
  3. Talk to your school counselor, financial aid office at the college or call the U.S. Department of Education at 1-800-4-FED-AID.

What Happens After You Apply

Your FAFSA will be processed, the results sent electronically to the schools you listed on your application and you receive a Student Aid Report (SAR). The SAR summarizes all the information you provided on your FAFSA. This report must be correct before you can receive financial aid.

You'll receive the SAR earlier if you submit your information online. You should get a SAR email within three to five days. It takes about 7 to 10 days to receive the SAR in the mail. A complete, correct SAR will contain your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and Data Release Number (DRN). You school will receive this information and put together a financial aid package. You'll be able to pick and choose what financial aid you want to accept or reject. You will also see what award amounts you will receive, and the names of the grants that are available to you.

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