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.
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) by email or by regular mail.
The Department of Education also issues you an Expected Family Contribution (EFC). This figure represents the amount of support the government expects your family to provide for college expenses. Colleges that you listed on the FAFSA will receive a copy of the SAR as well.
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 opened October 1. It's best to apply as soon as possible.
While federal aid has a rolling submission process each year, state aid has strict deadlines. Often times, colleges have separate deadlines, so you'll need 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.
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Understanding Your Financial Aid Rights
It's important to remember 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.