1. FAFSA (Free Application For Federal Student Aid)

The FAFSA is the primary means of applying for federal and state aid, institutional aid, and even some college scholarships. Each year, the office of Federal Student Aid provides more than $150 billion in financial assistance to more than 13 million students–and the FAFSA is how they do it. It is a form that can be filled out each year by current and prospective college students — undergraduate and graduate— in the U.S. to determine their eligibility for student financial aid. The information in this application will be used to determine your eligibility for federal aid. Colleges may use the FAFSA to determine eligibility for institutional aid, as well.

The FAFSA is free to submit and available online, and every college student should submit it every year. The deadline for the FAFSA varies by state–but some aid is “first come, first served”, so it’s best to be the early bird on this one.

2. CSS (College Scholarship Service)/Financial Aid PROFILE:

Nearly 300 schools in the U.S. use it to determine financial aid eligibility and connect students with nongovernmental aid, from internal funding to scholarships and loans.

The CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE is a non-federal online application for financial aid. Unlike the FAFSA, The PROFILE is more thorough and determines aid eligibility a little differently, considering factors such as your family’s medical expenses, debts, home equity, and business net worth. Unlike the FAFSA, the PROFILE has a fee (for the 2016-2017 academic year, it was $25 for the first school and $16 thereafter), though eligible students may apply to have it waived.

3. SAR (Student Aid Report)

This is the Student Aid Report. It is a summary of your FAFSA application and provides the initial insights into what your family can expect to pay to send you to college. You can request your SAR online or through the mail. When you receive it, review it carefully to make sure all information is correct and complete. If you do find an error, you’ll need to correct and resubmit your FAFSA.

4. PIN (Personal Identification Number)

A PIN is a 4-digit number you will be assigned to sign the FAFSA electronically. This pin gives you access to your personal records. Students and parents must each have their own PIN.

5. Grants

Grants are sums of money for school that doesn’t have to be repaid. Grants are different from scholarships in that they are generally need-based versus merit-based, but scholarships can be need-based too.

6. Scholarships

Unlike a grant, a scholarship is more like free money for college that doesn’t have to be repaid, based on merit or need. Scholarships can be provided by colleges, university departments, corporations, non-profits, and other organizations.

To find scholarships, talk to a high school counselor, visit your college’s financial aid office, research foundations pertinent to your student’s interests, or try online search engines like the U.S. Department of Labor’s Scholarship Search tool, which allows you to search through more than 7,000 scholarships, fellowships, loans, and other financial aid opportunities.

7. COA (Cost of Attendance)

Your COA is the amount needed to attend a college per year before financial aid is applied. It is the estimated full cost of completing one academic year as a full-time student at that college. It may include tuition, fees, room and board, books, supplies, and living expenses.

8. Need-Based Aid

 Need-based aid is awarded to a student based on his/her inability to pay the full cost of attendance. It may include grants, loans, scholarships, and work-study opportunities.

9. Loan

This type of financial aid must be paid back. Loans may be offered through the federal government, a bank, or other sources. Terms and fees will vary by lender.

10. Work Study Program

Work study programs are great opportunities for students to have jobs on campus to help pay for college expenses.

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