Financial aid is one of the tools that makes higher education possible
By Beth Ziehmer
July 01, 2018
Financial aid is one of the tools that makes higher education possible for many students. It may mean being able to continue your education when you otherwise would not be able or being able to attend the school of your choice despite higher tuition costs.
Financial aid includes:
- work-study, and
- loans (federal and private) - should be your last resort and you should borrow wisely
The first step in applying for financial aid is to complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). This form collects information about you and your family's financial situation and you should complete it after October 1 before the year you are requesting aid.
Check with the schools you are interested in attending and/or that state's department of higher education for specific deadlines, as each schools and/or states deadline varies.
Plan to complete the FAFSA online. The 2019-20 FAFSA will include 2017 income tax information, so your tax forms and your parents' tax forms will likely already be completed. Visit www.fafsa.ed.gov for more information on completing the FAFSA.
A few days after you complete the FAFSA online, you will receive notification that you may retrieve the Student Aid Report (SAR). The SAR lists the following information:
- Information you gave on the FAFSA
- A dollar amount for your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which colleges use to determine your financial aid eligibility.
After you have submitted your FAFSA and received your SAR, you will receive your award letter from your school. Your award letter outlines the financial aid package being offered to you.
Your award letter provides you with information about your school's cost of attendance and the financial aid the school has awarded to help you pay these costs. Your award letter also may show how your college calculated your financial need:
Cost of attendance (COA)
- expected family contribution (EFC)
- estimated financial aid
Remaining unmet financial need *
* Some schools may not be able to provide enough financial aid to cover your financial need. This is often referred to as unmet need or gap. Some schools will attempt to reduce the unmet need by including loans.
Your award letter provides a term-by-term breakdown of your aid, according to type, amount, and source. It also may include information about the terms and conditions of each award.
It is important to know how the school will distribute your award letter. For example, some schools provide the award letter online through a secure web portal. Others may provide it via e-mail or postal mail.
You need to determine if you are required to take action upon receipt of your award letter. Some colleges will require you accept, decline, or reduce each aid source. Others may "auto-award" and not require any action on the student's part. If you do elect to reduce or decline any aid sources (loans, work study, etc.), the school will not be able to increase other aid sources to compensate for the difference.
Visit mappingyourfuture.org/paying/awardletter.cfm for more information about reviewing your award letter and accepting aid.