Financial aid is a great option for families who need help paying for college. There are a variety of programs available for both financial need and merit-based aid. It can be confusing, however, to know what types of financial aid are out there and how to apply for them. Here are some tips for the new college student or the parents of a new student to understand aid programs and what type will best meet their needs.
First, understand that financial aid is not grants or scholarships. This is not money you get from a credit card, bank account, or business. You will need to apply for financial aid through the institution that is offering the degree or certificate you wish to pursue. Each institution will have its own set of eligibility requirements, and the financial aid office will determine which courses you qualify for based on your income and other factors.
The first place to start is with the financial aid office. They can walk you through the processes and options available to you. If you have any questions, they can assist you with those as well. The goal of the aid office is to get you through school without putting a strain on your wallet. They can give you advice on what classes you should take and what degree to pursue from a variety of schools or colleges.
It is important to understand the difference between need-based financial aid and merit-based financial aid. These terms are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing. Need-based aid is offered to students with exceptional financial need. You must demonstrate exceptional financial need in order to qualify. Merit-based financial aid is awarded on the basis of academic performance and has no requirement for exceptional financial need. Students with exceptional academic performances can get merit-based financial aid as well, but they will typically pay more for it.
When applying for aid, it’s helpful to know exactly how much the cost of attendance and college costs will be. Universities and colleges commonly request financial information from incoming students well before their first semester at school. Financial aid offices then have to spend a great deal of time analyzing that data in order to give an accurate estimate of need-based financial aid and the amount of financial aid available to a student in his or her first semester. Information such as your ethnicity, income level, and the number of full time working parents you have can make a big difference in your eligibility for financial aid. There are also scholarships available for specific groups, such as minority students or single mothers.
Once you have all of your financial aid information in order, you are ready to start filling out applications and making your first payments. Applications for financial aid should be submitted to the appropriate financial aid office no less than two weeks prior to your scheduled due date. It is important that you keep track of your application and send it to the correct address. Failing to provide the proper application instructions to the financial aid office can delay your application and increase your wait time. You should also make it a habit to attend your first meeting with a financial aid officer and make sure you understand everything he or she is telling you.