Adapted from Dora Grote

How to Apply for Financial Aid

College is expensive, but it is worth it! Financing postsecondary education can feel very frightening and complicated. The application process can be very stressful. But learning the process and how to proceed through it can make the experience a whole lot less intimidating.

Make continuing education a reality.

The first thing to realize is that no matter what you’re facing, you can make continuing education a reality. There are many choices for education, whether you are heading to a vocational, technical, community, or a four-year college, financing it is possible. In addition, it is important to not become overloaded with student debt when you’re done so you can enjoy growing in your career versus worrying about how to pay all of those student loans.

Fill out the FAFSA form.

The first step prior to attending college is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA). The Department of Education has made it simple to complete this lengthy application online.

The best way to begin to complete the FAFSA is to collect information about both the student’s income and the parents’ income if the student is classified as a “dependent student”. You will need your previous year’s income tax to complete the FAFSA along with other general information such as date of birth, address, family size and number of family members enrolled in college.

Find out if you qualify for grants.

After you submit your FAFSA to your schools of choice, you will be presented with a Student Aid Report (SAR) that will give you your options to help pay for college. Depending on your financial situation, you may qualify for federal grants. Grants are monies that you receive and do not have to pay back. Use grants available to you to pay for tuition and school related expenses. Don’t pass up free money! The U.S. Department of Education has a certain amount of funds allocated for grants each year, so take advantage of getting an education without owing any money. There is one exception to this; if you withdraw from school after grant disbursement, you may have to pay it back, so make sure you know the rules about the grants you choose.

Carefully Consider Loans.

Another award option may include student loans, either subsidized or unsubsidized. This funding option can cause challenges for graduates, because paying back borrowed funds can really put a damper on your bank account. Carefully consider the amount you decide to take through a student loan. Consider how many years you will need to take loan money to complete your degree and how long it will take you to pay back this money. Student loan debt can add a burden you do not need as you begin your new career, so choose loans wisely and carefully.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have an extra $500 a month after you graduate college because you didn’t have to pay student loans? Remember this information when you are sitting and deciding on your awards from the FAFSA application. Be careful when choosing student loans and don’t fall into the temptation of taking any more extra money than you need because it hurts when reality sets in and you have to pay it back. Also note that you cannot declare student loans in bankruptcy; the federal government has the right to garnish your wages, and defaulting on a student loan affects your credit and your ability to find a job (some employers won’t consider someone who has defaulted on student loans).

Don’t forget about scholarships.

Another alternative to loans is scholarships. Scholarships are not always awarded based on academic achievement. Scholarships generally do not have to be paid back. Scholarships do not always require a long application process or do not always require public speaking ability.

There are lots of available scholarships, grants, and fellowships. You have to be diligent to hunt them. Scholarships are available if you are willing to do some research and apply. Develop a plan and begin applying as soon as possible. Plan to apply for one scholarship a week. Before you know it, you will have submitted several applications and there may just be one for you.

Searching and applying for scholarships is similar to looking for a job – you don’t just apply to one and hope you get it. You have to be selective and apply for several. Not only will you become better each time you apply, with enough work, you will receive some free funding for continuing your education. Make a plan. Apply. Follow up. Be funded.

Paying for college is a family affair. Long before you get to this financial aid process, you may want to consider opening a 529 Plan for your children or grandchildren. Celebrate a birth with a 529 Plan and add to it each year for their birthday. You will be giving your child or grandchild a gift that will help secure their future. Contact us today and put our knowledge and experience to work for you. There is no cost for an initial meeting where we can help set up a 529 plan for your family. Click here to schedule a meeting or call us (423) 247-1152 to request more information.