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How to Apply for Financial Aid

Financial Aid

If you want to apply for federally sponsored financial aid or state money based on need, you have to file a FAFSA form. Just because you filed once and received aid doesn’t mean you’re home free. You have to send in a form every year to be considered for aid for the coming school year.

Many schools also require the application if you plan to apply for financial aid from the colleges and universities themselves. Some also require the profile form to qualify for those colleges’ own financial aid programs.

The key to applying for college financial aid is to file early. That’s because cash for some programs can run out. Money for Pell grants and Stafford loans, two of the major forms of federal aid, usually will be available no matter when you file, if the analysis of your FAFSA form shows you are eligible.

Not so with other financial aid programs. For example, some state aid money runs out in April and applications must be in much earlier. In addition, the federal government sends money to schools for campus-based programs such as federal college work student and federal supplemental opportunity grants and so-called Perkins loans. The colleges and universities (each) have a fixed amount of money to award to eligible students. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

FAFSA forms are available from high school guidance and college financial aid offices, some public libraries and the U.S. Department of Education. You may fill out a form and get help doing it on the Internet at http://www.fafsa.ed.gov.

Don’t confuse that with a private company Web site offering you help in filling out the forms – for a price. You also may get help for free from college financial aid officers.

If you or your child is going to college for the first time next fall, you should fill out the form even if you think your income or wealth is so great that you won’t be eligible for need-based money. Let the federal government and let your school determine if you are eligible for the financial aid. But if you filed last year, your student didn’t qualify for aid and your financial circumstances are the same or better than a year ago, there is no point in going through the FAFSA process.

If you don’t qualify for aid based on need, you can always go after scholarship money. While sponsors start rolling out offers in the fall, this time of year is peak season for those types of aid as well. Merit scholarships reward academic, athletic, musical, theatrical and artistic talent and excellence as well as leadership and community service.

Leadership and community service are the fastest growing areas for scholarships. Students are advised to start checking out scholarships and their requirements in their junior year of high school to make sure you can or have time to meet the standards. For example, if you need a 3.5 grade point average to qualify for an award and your average is 3.2, the middle of your senior year is too late to do anything about it.

Competition for nationwide awards offered by foundations and other agencies is fierce. Sometimes sponsors get thousands of applications for every scholarship they award. Closer to home, agencies, organizations, clubs, alumni associations, church groups and others offer scholarship in almost every city. Normally copies of applications for scholarships are available in school guidance offices. Not only can counselors alert you to scholarship possibilities, but information also is available through libraries and on the Internet.

That’s basically what’s required of college and college-bound students and their parents if they hope to apply for financial aid and pocket some of the millions of dollars in financial aid and scholarships available for the school year that starts next fall.

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