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How can I get financial aid?

December 01, 2018

Just like college, credit cards and jobs, the only way to get financial aid is to apply. It is a fairly straightforward process, starting with a general application to the U.S. Department of Education. This is the most important step. After that’s done, we can explore some financial aid extras. Check out this three-step process to getting the most out of your financial aid options.


Submit the FAFSA or CSS Profile


This is required! Start by figuring out whether your schools of interest require the FAFSA or CSS Profile. You must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, better known as FAFSA, to receive federal student aid. This free application will determine your financial need and can include need-based grants, loans and work-study funds.


The CSS Profile is administered through the non-profit, College Board. Many institutions and programs use the CSS Profile to determine their own distribution of aid.


Check with your financial aid office to determine what aid application they require. If you use the FAFSA, review these tips to make the application process quick and easy:


  1. Create an FSA ID. This allows you to login quickly and makes it easier for both parents and student to make edits and additions as needed.

  2. Know everyone’s info. The FAFSA will require various information from both the student and the parents. Have this information available throughout the application.

  3. Deadlines vary. FAFSA applications are available starting October 1 and remain open for almost nine months, but each school has different FAFSA requirements. Get FAFSA out of the way as early as possible.

If you don’t think you are eligible for financial aid, we still think you should apply. Check out our article discussing the benefits of submitting FAFSA for more information.


Apply for school-specific funds


Many schools have money, separate from federal aid (FAFSA), to award to students at their discretion. These are dollars from private funds for scholarships, grants or loans. Some schools use the FAFSA information to provide more need-based aid. Other schools might give merit-based aid [link to future article].


It might be necessary to complete additional application requirements for merit money or your school might automatically award it. To get the most accurate information and access to the most potential aid, check with your financial aid office.


Search for private scholarships


See if you are eligible for any private scholarships. These awards can cover books for a semester or offer an annual gift of thousands of dollars. No matter the size, this is free money that will go towards making your college experience more affordable.


Private scholarships can come from just about anywhere. You will likely find a number of scholarships related to academic achievement or interest, but you might also find some related your religion or volunteer experience. Talk to a college counselor about scholarships others from your high school have received and check out this site for a list of available scholarships right now.