Understanding Financial Aid Awards and Scholarships

Understanding Financial Aid Awards and Scholarships

The financial burden of attending college should not keep anyone from achieving their goals and dreams. Financial assistance is available to families of all income levels. The key is taking the time to apply for assistance via the FAFSA and private awards. Receiving financial assistance is worth the time and effort it takes to apply for aid. 

Who Awards Money for Assistance?

Financial assistance is awarded primarily from four sources:

  • Federal government
  • State agencies
  • Educational institutions
  • Private agencies or foundations

Forms of Financial Assistance

Financial assistance comes mainly in three forms: “free” money that one doesn’t have to pay back, educational loans that do have to be paid back, or through a work-study program where your time is traded for a paycheck. CLICK HERE to download our Financial Aid Cheat Sheet

Free Money:

  • Scholarships are offered by state, private and educational institutions and can be awarded based on any of the following:
    • Merit
    • Financial need
    • Characteristics/demographics
    • Career field interest
    • Athletic ability
    • College choice
  • Finding scholarships will take work.
  • Check out the following sources to get started:

BONUS TIP: A scholarship resume outlines your accomplishments and will make you stand out from the other applicants. Click here for scholarship resume tips and resume samples.

  • Grants are need- and merit-based awards. Eligibility is determined by what you submit on your FAFSA application. Six main grants can be awarded:
    • Pell Grant: largest & based on expected family contribution (EFC)
    • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant: given to students with extremely low EFC
    • TEACH Grant Program: must qualify by taking specific courses and obtaining a certain job in a specified location or it turns into a loan
    • Institutional: merit- or need-based awards from your school
    • Private: specific criteria met outlined in a private application
    • State: varies from state-to-state; financial need-based

Loans:

  • Student loans: students are solely responsible for any money borrowed
  • Direct Subsidized Loans: government pays interest while student is enrolled in school; payment begins after a 6-month grace period
  • Direct Unsubsidized Loans: interest accrues while student is enrolled in school; student can pay the interest as it accumulates or wait until graduation; interest not paid while student is enrolled becomes part of the principle amount owed
  • Parent loans: parents are solely responsible for any money borrowed
  • Private loans: loans from private banks, organizations, or people; there are usually fewer deferment options with higher interest
  • Consolidation of loans: consolidates two or more loans and is utilized when students are having difficulty with multiple payments

BONUS TIP: It will be tempting to accept money awarded to help with spending money, but you should ONLY accept the amount needed to cover qualified education expenses. Get a part-time job to cover spending and fun money.

Federal Work Study Program:

  • Part-time positions
  • Flexible on-campus jobs to accommodate student schedules
  • At least minimum wage
  • Earn money for college-related expenses and spending money
  • Eligibility determined by FAFSA

CLICK HERE to download our Financial Aid Cheat Sheet, then check out this short video regarding repayment of loans and deciding what financial aid is best for you.

How Do I Apply?

The application process for financial aid varies depending on the source.

Regardless of your income level, you should complete the FAFSA. This application becomes available each year on October 1. Keep in mind that the FAFSA must be submitted every year for the following academic year. This is a key step to securing financial aid, so take some time to learn more about the FAFSA.

Complete private applications found online, through the high school counseling office, the university’s financial aid office or from community businesses and organizations. It’s important to stay organized and on top of deadlines through this process.

How Do I Receive Assistance?

After applying for financial aid, you will receive an award letter from each school where you applied regarding your financial aid offer.

You must formally accept the award (it won’t magically show up on your account) so check with your institution about this process. Also, keep in mind that it is OK not to accept the full loan amounts offered.

If you do choose to take out loans, you will be required to complete entrance counseling and sign a master promissory note (mpn) agreeing to pay back the loan. After all paperwork is signed, grants and loans will be applied toward tuition and fees and the remaining balance (if any) will be paid to you for other expenses.

The process for receiving scholarships will vary depending on the source. Scholarships can be paid directly to the university or to you for books and other educational expenses.

KEEP EVERYTHING STRAIGHT WITH OUR CHEAT SHEET:

7 Financial Aid Tips

  1. You should NOT wait until you have decided on a college or university to apply for financial aid. Fill out the FAFSA as soon as it becomes available (October 1) each year.
  2. Financial aid can cover 100% of community college or inexpensive school costs. Apply!
  3. Financial aid assistance doesn’t have to be complicated. Ask for assistance from your high school counselor or college financial aid office.
  4. Always apply! You never know what you’ll qualify for.
  5. Student debt is the #1 reason for delaying the purchase of a home. Do NOT take out more than what you need.
  6. You must ACCEPT or DECLINE your financial award offer. Follow the instructions on the award letter.
  7. When given a private scholarship, send the donor a hand-written thank you letter to show your appreciation. First of all, it’s proper etiquette. Secondly, they may offer you the scholarship again in the future because of your gratitude.

College costs should not keep you from attending the college or university that will give you the best education for your career choice. Research and apply for scholarships on the internet and locally. Apply for federal financial aid via the FAFSA. This will give you a head start in paying for college to achieve your dreams!

Did you fill out the FAFSA for the 2017-2018 school year? Did you receive an award letter from the school of your choice? Have you already won some scholarships? Let us know how the financial aid process is going for you.

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