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Financial Aid Basics
As college costs rise, so does the opportunity and need to get funding through federal aid, grants, low interest loans and scholarships. Doing your financial aid homework can really pay off.
What is FAFSA?
FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid and is the application for the U.S. government financial aid. The FAFSA is an information collector and your doorway to government aid, need-based grants and thousands of non-federal grants and aid.
In the simplest terms, it determines how much money you and your family can contribute to your college education based on the cost of the college and your ability to pay. Kaplan has the tools to walk you through the process step-by-step.
How is financial aid calculated?
The Department of Education will examine your basic financial information (household income, etc.) to determine the amount of support to which you're entitled.
FAFSA looks at the college's cost of attendance (tuition, fees and expenses) and subtracts the expected family contribution. The result is considered your unmet need and is the amount of financial aid you are qualified for.
Please keep in mind that any outside funding (i.e. scholarships) will be reduced from the unmet need.
How do I receive aid?
Once you've submitted the FAFSA from, you'll receive a Student Aid Report (SAR). If you've filed electronically, the SAR will arrive by e-mail as fast as a week after submission. If you didn't complete the electronic process correctly or filed a paper application, the SAR will arrive by post office two to three weeks after submission.
After you confirm that all the information is correct, the Department of Education issues you an Expected Family Contribution (EFC). This figure represents the amount of support the government expects your family to provide for college expenses. Your school will receive a copy of the SAR three days after final processing.
Each college's financial aid department determines how their students receive assistance (check, automatic deductions on tuition bills, etc.). However, your school is required inform you of all its aid procedures and deadlines, particularly how and when you will receive your aid and/or work-study. Make sure you follow-up with your aid office so that you know what to expect and when.
When Should I Apply for Financial Aid?
The FAFSA is usually available from financial aid offices after November 1. Apply as soon as possible after January 1 of the year you plan to attend school.
Timing is important. While federal aid has a rolling submission process each year, state aid has strict deadlines. Often times, colleges have separate deadlines, so it’s best to check both.
Some schools set deadlines as early as March for certain types of funds (for which you will not be eligible until after you complete the FAFSA). Keep in mind, the longer you wait to submit your application, the less money there will be.
Who Should Apply for Financial Aid?
Everyone who is attending college should fill out the FAFSA each year.
Even if your family's income is too high to qualify for need-based grants, you may still be able to get subsidized student loans.
Should there be a change of life or change to your ability to pay for college mid-year, getting your data into the system may speed the process along.
A Scholarship for Everyone
Scholarships can make paying for college a little–and sometimes a lot–easier. Thousands of colleges, companies and nonprofits offer scholarships each year, many of which do not have to be paid back. You can be part of this.
To make your search easier and organized, ScholarshipAdvisor.com is one of the many free resources available that:
- Lists scholarships by interest, major and academic categories
- Offers a scholarship search engine
- Organizes scholarships by state
- Features The Great Scholarship Search Infographic
- Discusses scholarship scam red flags
- Is available in an App for iOS download
6 Smart Steps to Scholarship Success
Start researching early.
Give yourself plenty of time to find the right scholarships and to apply. Get the KapMap, your essential college planning roadmap, to help you stay on top of all the important deadlines. The Kaplan Scholarships 2014 publication (Amazon.com) publication is also a valuable resource, providing you with a comprehensive list of over 3,000 available scholarships; contact information for each scholarship; annually updated and revised important financial guidelines, and much more.
Use all resources and strategies available to you.
Investigate everything. You never know when an unlikely funding source may decide to grant you a scholarship. Check your college, your high school guidance office, your religious institution, and your parents' workplace. If you have a passion, there are scholarships aimed at what you love.
Follow all steps and instructions.
You would be surprised at how many people ignore this simple advice. It pays (literally) to follow the rules.
Be confident and self-assured.
Whether you are filling out your application, writing your essay or going on interviews, it's important to have a good self-image, a high level of confidence in your abilities, and pride in your past achievements.
Remember to thank those who have helped you.
A handwritten note goes a long way and is often remembered. It will also reinforce they made the right choice and lay the groundwork for possible renewals.
Don't pay anyone to do this work for you.
Believe it or not, there are many scholarship scams out there. Fraudulent scholarship companies and other information you should be aware of are available at www.ftc.gov.
For more information on scholarships and financial aid opportunities, visit StudentAdvisor.com.
Understanding Your Financial Aid Rights
Although the cost of college can sometimes seem criminal, it's important to know that when it comes to student financial aid, you do have some rights. Know these rights and ensure that they are being honored by colleges, federal and state institutions, and financial institutions.
In the financial aid process, you have the right to...
- Privacy: All record and data submitted with financial aid applications are treated as confidential information
- Accept or decline any offer of financial aid.
- Be notified before cancellation of aid, as well as the reason for cancellation.
On applying for financial aid, you have the right to know...
- the cost of attendance
- the refund policy for withdraws
- what financial assistance is available from federal, state, and institutional resources
- the procedures and deadlines for financial aid submissions
- how financial aid recipients are selected
- how your eligibility is determined
Regarding any awards your receive, you have the right to know...
- how and when funds will be disbursed
- full details of each type of award you receive
- the interest rate
- the total amount you must pay
- when your repayment begins
- the cancellation and deferment provisions of your loan
- the length of your repayment period
Regarding any Federal Work-Study job, you have the right to know...
- a job description
- the hours
- the pay rate
- how and when you'll be paid
On meeting the obligations of your award, you have the right to know...
- the criteria used to determine satisfactory performance
- how to appeal any decision
The financial aid process can seem opaque at best. Knowing your rights going into it will help ensure that you get all the help to which you're entitled.