Throughout the college admissions process, you’ll encounter several important checkpoints. Selecting schools, applying for admission, and receiving college acceptances are all critical. But, your decision often comes down to how you will pay for it. Financial aid can help by providing scholarships, grants, work-study employment opportunities, and student loans to those who qualify. Below are essential financial aid facts every student should know, including an introduction to the FAFSA.
- Most financial aid requires filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
The FAFSA is the application for federal grants, work-study, and federal loans. Colleges and most state grant programs use the FAFSA to award their financial aid. Check your school’s financial aid website to see if you need to submit additional forms. When filling out your FAFSA, note that many state grant applications require you to list an in-state school first for consideration. You can find additional resources on filing the FAFSA on our website, with articles like Need Help Paying for College? We Have Tips for Filing the FAFSA.
- Know and meet financial aid application deadlines.
Most schools have deadlines for submitting the FAFSA. Complete yours in time to meet the earliest deadline for the schools you’re considering, or for your state grant program if that deadline is first. If you miss deadlines, you may receive fewer grants, need more student loans, or may be offered less financial aid overall. You can find deadline information on college financial aid websites or visit the FAFSA site at studentaid.gov. Tip: The FAFSA provides an option to use the Internal Revenue Service Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT), which automatically transfers tax information into the FAFSA form, and can save you time searching for tax records and eliminate errors.
- Amend your information if your financial situation changes.
The amount and type of financial aid you qualify for is based on the income information submitted on your FAFSA. If your family’s economic situation changes in such a way that your financial need increases substantially, your financial aid office needs to know. You should file an amended FAFSA and/or talk with someone in your financial aid office about the changes to see how they impact grants, scholarships, work-study, and student loans you may receive.
- Don’t rule out a college because you think it’s too expensive.
The intent of financial aid is to provide access and college choice for students with financial need. If you are accepted at a school and filed your FAFSA, along with other required forms timely, you will receive a financial aid award notification before you are asked to make a decision about whether you will attend. To be in the best position, apply for admission at a few schools and send your FAFSA to all.
- Remember to compare financial aid packages.
If you’ve followed the steps above, you may receive financial aid packages from a few schools, if you are eligible. You can compare the amount of scholarships, grants, work-study, and loans offered at each school, and calculate your net costs at each. When determining your school costs, consider all expenses – tuition, fees, room, board, books, supplies, transportation, and personal expenses. The makeup of your financial aid package differs among schools, and the net cost may differ as well. If you need additional aid, there may be other federal and private student loans to help cover your portion of costs.
Before you accept your financial aid and make a final decision about the school you will attend, be sure to read all the information accompanying your financial aid offer. You should fully understand each program in your package, your obligations, and the renewal process for each program. If you have questions, your college financial aid office is an excellent resource.
Nelnet Bank does not provide legal, investment, tax, or financial advice. This page and the information contained herein is for informational purposes only. This content is not meant to address the circumstances of any particular individual. Nothing contained in this article constitutes a recommendation or endorsement by Nelnet Bank. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, consult with a qualified professional.