Financial Aid

5 Ways for Getting Smart About Financial Aid

The internet is a wonderful thing, you can find the answer to just about any question including “what is financial aid?” The problem is that are usually so many answers that it’s overwhelming and it’s almost as bad as not knowing the answer at all. So here are five ways for learning about financial aid without wading through page after page of search.

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One Quick Overview

Don’t want to spend a lot of time synthesizing pages of information?

For a one-stop overview of the basic issues you need to understand, read SCOIR’s FAFSA & CSS Profile – A Straightforward Guide to Understanding Financial Aid. It introduces you to the FAFSA, PROFILE, your EFC and how they all relate. Yup, serious fun.


Two Visual Aids

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words and here are two infographics that can help you get a better idea of exactly what is financial aid.

The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators provides a bird’s eye view of what aid is available in Student Aid by the Numbers. The numbers and sources may not be what you think.

The Financial Aid Infographic: Fact or Fiction by Vista College does a good job of summarizing some common misconceptions people have about financial aid. Ideally, families would read this before students apply to college.


Three Sources of Help

You know you have to fill out the form but could really use some help in how to fill out the forms. These three sites provide the help.

You should start by going to the source of the greatest amount of aid, FAFSA, at Federal Student Aid. The website lists everything you need to complete the FAFSA and what to expect. In Wondering how the amount of your federal student aid is determined? you’ll find a step-by-step explanation of how federal financial aid is calculated. It includes a PDF explaining exactly how they calculate the Expected Family Contribution.

If you are looking for some in-person help filling out the forms, there are various organizations that offer free events to help fill out the forms. Some of the better state websites will keep a list of such events. You can also try entering “College Goal Sunday” and your state for resources and events to help students fill out the FAFSA.

The FAFSA Help Guide takes you through filling out the FAFSA by showing each screen of the online application. You have to fill out contact information to get the PDF version but you can use the website version without having to give your information. You can go through the online version to see if it’s worth the trouble to download the PDF.

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Four Sites to Bookmark

These are sites that you should go to first when you have any questions about financial aid. More than likely, they’ll answer your questions.

Student Aid on the Web-like this one is a surprise. It’s where you go to fill out the FAFSA and has all the latest information on changes in financial aid.

If you’re looking for in-person help, check out Mapping Your Future‘s list of in-person events by state.

NASFAA-the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. These are the people at the colleges who actually handle your financial aid application and hopefully award you the financial aid you need. Be sure to check out their tuition discounts page.

26 Places to Get Help with the FAFSA-if none of the other websites are helping you, try some of the resources listed here.


Five Topics to Ponder on What is Financial Aid

These articles will give a feel for some of the issues related to answering what is financial aid.

Families Rely on ‘Net Price Calculators’ to Estimate the Actual Cost of College. A New Study Shows How Misleading They Can Be. All colleges are required to post a net price calculator to help students estimate the actual costs of college and this is really a good thing. But only if it’s being done correctly.

The Real Deal on Financial Aid. This is straight from the horse’s mouth. Muhlenberg College explains the realities for most colleges today and preferential financial aid.

Do I have to report outside scholarships to the financial aid office? You have to report any outside scholarships as part of your financial aid application and the result isn’t always good.

Paying for College: How the Financial Aid Formulas Work Forbes Magazine explains how the different financial aid formulas will treat your assets.

Why Your EFC Should be how You Start Your College Search. This is a basic explanation of “Expected Family Contribution” and how it affects everything about financial aid.


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Michelle Kretzschmar

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Michelle Kretzschmar

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