Especially in today’s day and age, going to college is intertwined more and more with whether students can afford it. Nearly all schools offer financial aid of some kind, but the process and different terms thrown about can confuse students, leading them to make poor decisions. There are a lot of questions about financial aid floating around out there, but one of the biggest is:
Do I need to know what school I’m going to before applying for financial aid?
The answer is not really. Financial aid packages are a major (and possibly even deciding factor) for choosing a school. Students seeking financial aid need to submit their FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) by the deadline listed on the government’s website. Individual schools’ financial aid programs and third-party scholarships are going to have their own rules and deadlines, so be sure you carefully read and understand their requirements.
You do not even need to be admitted to a school to apply for financial aid. You may apply for financial aid any time after January 1st. However, only after you are accepted will you receive a financial aid package. Then, when you have received financial aid packages from all schools at which you’ve been accepted, you can begin making your choice.
What Different Types of Financial Aid Are Offered?
It’s important to understand the difference between need-based and merit-based financial aid. As the names suggest, need-based financial aid is determined by an institution after carefully looking over the financial situation of you and your family. Merit-based financial aid is aid students can be awarded based on academic success.
It’s also important to understand the different types of financial aid:
Scholarships are student aid that come from schools or other outside sources. They can be awarded based on merit or need.
Grants are federal and state student aid that do not need to be repaid.
Work study means you have the option of taking a part-time job on your campus to help pay for schooling. Students on work study are usually given precedence over students not on work study when it comes to filling campus jobs. Just because you apply for work study does not mean it becomes mandatory to take a job.
Loans are the most unique type in that they have to be paid back. While education loans are usually at lower interest, students may or may not opt to take out loans in order to pay for college.
Making sure you get the most out of all of the above types of need will ensure you get the best financial aid package you can.
What If They Don’t Give Me Enough?
If you get your financial aid package back from your top school pick and it wasn’t as much as you were hoping for, don’t despair. Some schools will alter their formulas based on your circumstances, so don’t hesitate to contact your prospective school’s financial aid department immediately and see if they can make other arrangements for you.
At the end of the day, allowing money to be the sole factor in choosing your school is likely not the best decision in the long run. Students need to go to universities where they are a good fit and will achieve their best. But money is important, and you don’t have to know which school you want to go to before applying for financial aid. In fact, it’s often better to compare and weigh your different options.