Many students choose not to apply for financial aid because they feel overwhelmed by the process or assume they will not qualify. Applying for financial aid does not need to be a challenge. See our tips below for what to expect.
Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
You can apply for federal aid by completing the FAFSA. You can complete the FAFSA online or by paper. It is free to apply, and it allows you to access a variety of financial aid resources, including loans, grants and federal work-study. The FAFSA is also used to determine your eligibility for aid from a school or a state.
Even if you think you might not qualify for aid, you should still complete the FAFSA to confirm your eligibility. You should complete the FAFSA each year to check your eligibility, as your financial situation may change from one year to the next.
You can use the FAFSA4caster tool to estimate your federal aid eligibility.
It is important to be mindful of deadlines. You will need to complete the FAFSA between January 1st – June 30th for the upcoming academic year in September. Some programs are first come, first served, so apply early if you can.
After completing the FAFSA, you may be notified that you have been selected for verification. Don’t worry; this may happen if a school needs to verify that the information reported on your FAFSA is accurate. You may need to provide additional documentation to the school.
Next Step: Reviewing your Student Aid Report (SAR)
About a month after completing your FAFSA, you will receive your Student Aid Report (SAR) in the mail. You can also review your SAR online. The SAR will provide you with information about your eligibility for federal student aid, including your Expected Family Contribution (EFC).
Your EFC is a figure reflecting what a family is expected to spend on the student’s college education. The Department of Education uses the information within your FAFSA to calculate this figure.
Review your SAR, and if you need to submit any corrections, you can do so.
Aid Award Letter
The award letter will list the financial aid for which you qualify, including any grants, scholarships, loans, or work-study.
You will get an award letter from all of the schools at which you were accepted. You should compare the different award letters before making a decision about where to attend college.
You can appeal your award letter if your financial situation has changed and is no longer accurately reflected in the information you submitted on your FAFSA.
Accepting Financial Aid Reward
After choosing a school to attend, you will need to follow the school’s specific instructions to accept the award. You can find these instructions on the school’s award letter.
You do NOT need to accept the full award. You can turn down a loan or request a lower amount if you do not anticipate needing the full amount.