Financial Aid for Community College: What is FAFSA? (page 3)
FAFSA is the form that students love to hate. It's a necessary first step in the process of applying for almost any type of financial assistance.
FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. If you want to apply for any type of federal student aid"grants, loans, or work-study"you must complete this form. Most states and many colleges also require or use this form for their non-federal financial aid programs. So by completing FAFSA, you have a triple advantage because you can apply for three levels of assistance: federal, state, and college.
FAFSA is important because the financial information that you supply will help determine the amount of money that you (or your family) will be expected to contribute to your college costs that year (Expected Family Contribution).
The difference between the Cost of Attendance (a standard amount determined by rules established by law, which may differ from your actual expenses) and the Expected Family Contribution equals your financial need.
This information from your FAFSA form will be used by the college to calculate your financial aid package, the combination of financial aid resources"grants, loans, work-study, scholarships"that the college financial aid office puts together to meet your individual needs as closely as possible.
The FASFA form is available in print from your high school counselor, the community college financial aid office, or from the federal government. It is also available free online via most college Web sites and from www.fafsa.ed.gov. If you want to send your FAFSA form electronically, you can download FAFSA Express software to your computer.
You can also do a test run of FAFSA on the Web by going to www.studentaid.gov and then to the FAFSA demonstration site. This is a good idea, as you will get a preview of the documentation that you (and your parents) will need to complete the form, such as annual tax return, earnings records, Social Security numbers, and so on, and of the amount of time you'll need to fill in the form.
It doesn't cost you anything but time (and some aggravation) to make the FAFSA application. Help in completing the form is available from your high school, the college financial aid office (which often has workshops for parents and students, sometimes at your local high school), and as well as online at www.fafsa.ed.gov.
Financial Aid Tips
What You Can Get in Your Package
You might be eligible to receive assistance in several ways"grants, loans, work-study, and scholarships. Receiving one form of assistance doesn't necessarily preclude you from receiving another, but they will all be balanced together to form your financial aid package.
How much you receive depends on factors such as:
- Cost of attending the college
- Your financial need
- Availability of funds
- Your college's aid policies and federal and state financial aid programs in which they participate
- The number of students who request or need financial
The financial aid office will use federal and state guidelines to examine your eligibility for federal, state, and institutional aid programs based on your financial need. Staff will check your eligibility for grants and scholarships first, followed by your eligibility for the Federal Work-Study program or student loans. Scholarships from outside sources are also considered. The final product will be your financial aid package.
When the financial aid office has determined what your financial aid package will be, you will receive an award letter. It will tell you:
- The amount of your financial need
- How your financial need was determined
- Types and amounts of aid offered
- How and when you will receive the funds
- Student employment conditions if you are in a work-study program
- The terms and conditions of the offer, such as the number of credit hours you must take each semester or quarter to remain eligible or the academic requirements you must meet to maintain your funding
- Whether or not the award is subject to availability of funds
It's important to understand that your financial aid package may not cover all of your financial need, but it will go a long way to making college more affordable for you. You also can accept some or all of the financial aid package. For example, if you decide that you'd rather not have a loan, you can decline that portion of the package. Whatever you decide to accept or decline, you do need to inform the college!
Applying for Scholarships
Scholarships can take a bit of work to get, but they will reward you with funds that don't need to be repaid, recognition, and often the opportunity to participate in special programs or events designated for scholarship winners.
Scholarship forms vary in complexity. Some require only completion of a short form. Others that are very competitive require more thought and imagination to help you distinguish yourself from the crowd.
For example, for scholarships that are based on special talents, skills, community service, and so on, you may need to write an essay about yourself, your experience, why you need or merit the scholarship, or show a sample of your creative work.
Here's how to apply for a scholarship: