What is financial aid and am I eligible for it?
Financial aid comes in two forms: need-based and merit-based.
Need-based aid comes in the form of loans, grants that do not have to be paid back, and self-help aid, such as work-study programs. There is no specific income level that indicates whether a family is eligible for need-based aid. The formulas used to determine the amount of need-based aid take into consideration many factors, including family size, income, assets, and outside resources.
Merit-based financial aid comes in the form of scholarships or grants that do not need to be paid back. Colleges typically use this type of financial aid to entice desirable students to attend their college.
If I am concerned about the cost of college, should I only apply to state schools?
Due to the complexity of the financial aid system and the increasing use of merit-based aid to attract desirable students, the cost of a private college may end up being close to the cost of a public college. Therefore, it is best to apply to a mix of both state and private schools.
Do I need to be admitted before I can apply for financial aid at a particular school?
No. You can apply for federal financial aid any time after January 1st. To actually receive the funds, though, you must be admitted and enrolled at the school. In addition, each college has its own recommended filing deadline. Sometimes this date falls before a student learns about their admission status. Make sure to check each of your college choices specific filing deadlines. Always file your federal financial aid application as early as you can after January 1st.
Do I have to fill out more than just the FAFSA form?
All U.S. colleges require completion of the FAFSA form. However, many schools now also require you to fill out the College Board CSS Profile form. Additionally, certain schools may have their own forms you must complete as well. Check each college for the recommended filing deadline for each required form. Each state may also have their own application. In New York State, it is the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP).
Is it worth it to fill out the financial aid form even if I don’t think I will qualify?
Yes. Often parents or students think they don’t qualify for aid when they really do. In addition, while most financial aid is awarded based on financial need, some grants, loans, and scholarships are available regardless of need.
Does my family need to have completed their tax returns before we can file?
No. Many times a college’s recommended filing deadlines are prior to when the tax returns are completed. It is better to file prior to the deadline using estimated income than to miss the deadline to use exact figures.