Financial aid is any type of funding available to help a family or student defray the cost of a college education including tuition, room, board, fees, books, and personal expenses. Financial aid can come from many different sources and may include scholarships, grants, discounts, loans, or work opportunities.
Money awarded to a student based upon his or her academic merit or some other defined criteria. This money does not have to be repaid and often can be renewed each year the student is enrolled in school as long as the student continues to meet the criteria for continuation. Learn more about scolarships available at Regent University.
Similar to a scholarship, but usually involves financial need as a criteria or some other specified criteria such as residency in a particular state.
Eligibility is determined through the FAFSA, but all students qualify for at least one type of these loans, unless the student has previously defaulted on a student loan. They include the Perkins and the Subsidized Stafford Loan for students who demonstrate financial need, the Unsubsidized Stafford Loan for students who may or may not demonstrate financial need and the PLUS Loan which is available to parents as well as independent students.
These loans are available to most parents or students who have good credit. The interest rates on these loans are usually higher than the federal loan interest rates. A home equity line can also be considered a private loan and may have a better interest rate than other private loans.
Some schools have federal funds that they use to provide on-campus work opportunities to students. These work opportunities are usually included in the financial aid package that the student receives from the school's financial aid office. Even schools that do not offer the federal work-study program will often have work opportunities on campus for students. The information on these work opportunities may be housed in different locations on different campuses (i.e. the Student Services Office, Human Resources Office, The Student Center, etc.)
The Financial Aid Application Process
When applying for financial aid, it is perfectly fine to complete financial aid applications for every school you are considering. You will want to have the financial aid information from each school available as you make a final decision about which school you will actually attend. It is VERY important to make note of all financial aid and/or scholarship application deadlines for each school. Most schools have a limited amount of certain types of funding and you want to be considered for as many sources of aid as possible. When applying for financial aid, you may be required to complete any or all of the applications listed below.
All schools offering Title IV Federal Financial Aid Programs must use the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as the starting point for awarding money to students. This form is found on the government website. If you are 23 or younger and you are not married, a graduate student or a ward of the court, and you do not have dependent children, you will most likely need to include your parent's income information on the form. It is best to have your previous year's tax returns in front of you as you fill it out. Once you have completed the form, you can request that the results be sent to all the schools on your list at no charge.
Some schools require that financial aid applicants also complete the CSS profile which can be found on the College Board website. This form collects some additional information which these colleges use to award their own funds.
The School Application
Often schools will require that financial aid and scholarship applicants complete an application that the college itself has developed. This application can usually be found on the college's financial aid site or in the financial aid office.
State Grant Application
Many states offer a state grant to students who will be attending a private college in their state. Often these grants require a separate application that is usually available on-line. Most private colleges have information regarding the state grant available in their state.
Applications for Outside Scholarships
Many companies, foundations and private donors offer scholarships to college students. These scholarships usually have their own application process outside of the financial aid application process that you must complete for the schools you desire to attend. There are several good scholarship search engines available for you to use to investigate scholarship opportunities that may be right for you. Regent has several listed on the financial aid website. As you consider how much time you should invest in applying for outside scholarships, remember that even if you spend 10 hours completing outside scholarship applications, if you only receive one $500 scholarship, you have still made $50 per hour.
What about paid financial advisors?
If you feel you need help with financial planning for college, a paid financial advisor may be a good step for you to take in the financial aid process. Before you do however, make sure that the advisor you have in mind is familiar with the college financial aid process and with the financial payment options available through colleges and outside sources. It is always best to get references. Before meeting with an advisor, decide what it is that you need to discuss with him or her and avoid making drastic financial planning decisions while in the session. You may want to get a second opinion.
The Financial Aid Package or Award
Once you have completed all required applications and submitted them on time, and you have been admitted to the college, the financial aid office at that school will send you an award letter outlining all the types of financial for which you are eligible. This is called your financial aid award or package. It may include scholarships, grants, loans, and work opportunities. It will not usually list any outside scholarships for which you are eligible unless the school has been notified that you have received such an award.
In putting this package together for you, the financial aid officer is looking at each source of funding available to see if you qualify for money from that source. The goal is to be able to give you as much money as possible from each source starting with the best sources first (scholarships and grants) and then moving through work options and loan options. Your "financial need" (defined below) is the factor that often determines how much money you can get from each source.
This number is determined for each student by the financial aid office at each school. The "need" amount may vary from school to school based upon the cost of education at each school. The formula for determining "need" is as follows:
Cost of Education (tuition + fees + room + board + books + personal expenses + transportation expenses) - EFC (Estimated Family contribution - the number that is determined by the FAFSA calculation) = Financial Need
You must respond to the offer of financial aid from a school. You can accept the entire offer by signing the award letter and returning it as indicated by each financial aid office. You may need to do this on-line. You can accept parts of the offer and turn down other parts. For instance, you may want to accept all of the scholarships and grants, but not accept the loans offered. Or you may want to reduce the amount you are to borrow to an amount that you have determined (NOTE: you cannot arbitrarily increase any financial aid award). Once you have accepted the financial aid, you may need to follow up by providing additional documents or paperwork as indicated by the financial aid office. Should you have any questions at all regarding your financial aid, you should contact the financial aid counselor assigned to you.