Navigating the Financial Aid Process
Financial aid is money students are awarded to help them pay for college. The federal government is the largest source of financial aid. To be considered for federal financial aid, students must complete a Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA). Some types of financial aid, such as loans, need to be paid back. Others, such as scholarships, grants, and work-study, do not.
How to Apply for Financial Aid
Even if students are unsure if they need financial aid, they should complete a FAFSA so they can consider all their options for funding college. Students can start submitting the FAFSA on October 1. They should consider attending College Goal Wisconsin, a statewide event that provides free information and assistance to families filling out FAFSAs.
It’s very important to file financial aid forms by their deadlines. Students should pay attention to the financial aid priority date at the college, which is listed on campus profile pages. If a student is not sure what to submit or when, they should contact the campus’s financial aid office.
What Happens Next
After students submit their financial aid applications, they’ll receive an award letter from their school’s financial aid office. This letter typically arrives in the spring. It explains their financial aid package for the upcoming school year, listing each amount of aid and its source.
Students should read this letter carefully, and be sure they understand all of it. The financial aid office at their college can help them make sense of anything that’s unclear. Students shouldn’t hesitate to ask questions.
Students who are offered loans will need to indicate whether they’re going to accept them. They can accept as much or as little of a loan as they’d like, or turn it down entirely. A student’s award letter should indicate how to do each of these things. It should also explain when and how the student will receive aid. Again, if students have questions, they should contact the campus’s financial aid office.
Types of Financial Aid
There are four main types of financial aid. For additional details, visit this summary by the State of Wisconsin Higher Educational Aids Board (HEAB), which also lists financial aid programs available to Wisconsin residents.
- Loans: Both the federal government and private lenders such as banks offer this type of aid. The total amount of a loan must be repaid to the lender, along with interest. The federal government offers low-interest loans to students and their parents. Private loans typically have higher interest rates. In most cases, you don’t need to repay loans until you finish school.
- Scholarships: This type of financial aid is an award for academic achievement, or for meeting another set of criteria. Some scholarships require that students demonstrate financial need, and others do not. Unlike loans, scholarships don’t need to be repaid. Community organizations, private foundations, your college, and other groups offer scholarships.
- Grants: Like scholarships, grants are awards that don’t need to be repaid. They are typically offered to students who show financial need.
- Work-Study: This federal program provides employment to qualified students who need help paying for college. With a work-study job, students work on campus part-time during the academic year. If students don’t qualify for work-study, they may apply for other types of jobs on or off campus.
Sources of Financial Aid
Federal and state governments, colleges and universities, nonprofit organizations, and private institutions offer financial aid. As students begin their search for financial aid, explore the resources the U.S. Department of Education has created. Be sure to read the Guide to Federal Student Aid, which explains each aid option the federal government offers.
Students should contact the financial aid office at each college they’re considering. This office can provide details about scholarships and other aid the school offers. Some schools have scholarships specifically for incoming freshmen.
Financial aid from private sources ranges from scholarships to loans. Many local organizations, employers, and charitable foundations offer scholarships, while banks and credit unions offer loans.