We know applying for financial aid is not easy, so we have 5 tips to ease some of your stress.

Tip #1: You can’t win the lottery without buying a ticket. 

-Fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Make sure all the information you include is right: Social Security numbers, email addresses, etc. and submit it EARLY (the FAFSA is now available Oct. 1).

Tip # 2: Know the terminology.

-Need based financial aid vs. merit based financial aid. “Need based” is based on income and requires the FAFSA be submitted (see above). Income is NOT a factor for merit based aid.

-Work study. These are jobs on campus and could provide a great additional source of income while you are in school.

-Grant vs. loan. Grants don’t need to be paid back; loans have to be repaid.

-Subsidized Stafford loan vs. unsubsidized Stafford loan. Both must be repaid, but “unsubsidized” loans are available to all students who submit a FAFSA, regardless of income.  

-Expected family contribution (EFC). Each college you put on the FAFSA will get the Student Aid Report (you get a copy too) that estimates what your family can afford for one year of your college education (your EFC). Your financial aid is determined by the difference between your EFC and the cost of one year of college. For each school, the difference between the EFC and the actual cost of going to that college will be different based on tuition, fees, etc.

Tip # 3: Know the rules.

-To receive financial aid, you must be a U.S. citizen (or a permanent resident), have a valid Social Security number, and be making progress toward a degree.

-The Stafford loans are often low interest, and most payment plans don’t start until after graduation.

Tip # 4: Use the internet.

-Learn as much as you can about how financial aid works at your list of colleges. Do your research on loans and grants given in previous years and make contact with the Financial Aid officer for each school.

-Look for private scholarships not connected with the colleges on your list or your state and federal government.

-Remember, you should NEVER be asked to pay for financial aid or scholarship information – it’s all available for free online or from the provider.

Tip #5: Stay in contact with the Financial Aid officer at each college on your list.

           -Financial aid packages are different for every school and many are not finalized until the summer.                                                                                                                                             

About the Author

David W. Clark

David W. Clark, M.Ed., is an independent college admission consultant with College Search Now (Paoli, PA) who has been working with college bound high school students and parents for more than 35 years....