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12 things you should know about financial aid for college admissions

For most undergraduate students, college is a life-altering decision that requires proper planning and preparation. One of the essential aspects is understanding, “What is financial aid for college?”

Understanding the basics of financial aid will prepare you for managing your college expenses. In this blog post, we share 12 financial aid fundamentals that every prospective student should know.

More Michigan students can now attend CMU tuition-free through the CMU Tuition Advantage program. 

CMU Tuition Advantage program info

Submit your FAFSA for federal financial aid

Scholarships, grants, and Federal student loans all come when you submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form. The Department of Education uses the FAFSA for federal student aid programs like Pell grants, Federal student loans, and work-study.

The FAFSA opens Oct. 1, so mark it on your calendar. There is probably no form that is more important for financial aid for college than this one. 

Types of financial aid

Research the types of financial aid available to you, such as grants, scholarships, work-study, and Federal student loans. Students do not have to pay back some higher education aid, such as scholarships and Pell grants. Other aid, like Federal student loans, you will pay back.

Each program has requirements and benefits that you should consider when applying. In addition to the FAFSA, there is also aid available from your institution, as well as private scholarships. There are more ways to pay for college than you might realize. 

Eligibility requirements for financial aid

Use reputable higher education financial aid websites to research scholarships that match your qualifications. Most scholarships require that you apply directly to them, and you must meet specific eligibility criteria to receive the scholarship.

Study your eligibility requirements to ensure that you can meet them. You can also speak to financial aid about your requirements.

Know the difference between subsidized and unsubsidized loans 

Understanding the difference between loans is important if you plan on taking them out. Subsidized loans have no interest rate during the deferment period, whereas unsubsidized loans accumulate interest during the deferment period.

You might find that subsidized loans are a better fit for you as they have more favorable terms for repayment. One rule of thumb is to not take out more than 10% of your expected gross income in student loans. 

Alternative ways to pay for college

Sometimes it takes getting a little creative to get financial aid for higher education. There are alternative ways to finance your college education, such as through personal savings or private loans. Be careful when considering these options since they may come with higher interest rates and may lead you to incur debt.

You might also consider joining the military and receiving GI Bill benefits to pay for college. Another option is to crowdfund your higher education through a site like GoFundMe.

Ask questions about financial aid

Speak to a financial aid office representative if you have questions about Federal financial aid programs. They can provide insight on navigating the financial aid application process.

Remember that it’s important to advocate for yourself – take time to get your questions answered. Read the financial aid website, where you may find answers to your questions. 

Understand your financial aid offer letter

Your financial aid offer letter is where all your awards will be together on one page. Take the time to read your award letter thoroughly. You'll want to understand the terms and conditions that come with Pell grants or student loans.

Make sure to note financial aid deadlines, fees, and any other obligations that come with the financial aid award.

Beware of financial aid scams

Unfortunately, some scammers take advantage of undergraduate students by promising them easy financial aid. Always check the legitimacy of any financial aid organization before sharing your personal information with them.

Paying up front, or monthly fees is a red flag that the organization is not legitimate. 

Keep up with financial aid deadlines

Be mindful of the financial aid deadlines for scholarship and financial aid applications. Most opportunities require early submission, so be sure to stay on top of financial aid deadlines.

Make a calendar of important dates and financial aid deadlines so you don’t fall behind. Don’t miss a chance at grant or scholarship money because you missed the date!

Keep your grades up

Most merit-based aid programs require that recipients maintain a given GPA to continue receiving payments. Failure to meet these requirements may lead to the suspension or revocation of your financial assistance.

Setting good study habits now will save you a lot of headaches down the road. If you think you are struggling in a course, talk to your academic advisor. 

Cut college costs

Look for opportunities to reduce your college expenses. Consider attending a community college for the first two years before transferring to a four-year college.

You may consider working part-time while in college. Attending a public university can also be less expensive than attending a private university. 

Look for specialty scholarships 

There are literally hundreds of millions of dollars in unclaimed scholarships. Seek out and apply for financial aid specifically for your intended major.

Many departments within universities offer merit-based aid tailored explicitly to undergraduate students who choose a particular degree or program. Ask your professors about scholarship opportunities in your field. 

Applying to college is a significant milestone in your academic journey. Financial aid plays a huge role in making your dreams a reality. Research available Federal financial aid options, understand the terms of your awards, and stay on top of financial aid deadlines.

Approach your college's financial aid office with any questions you may have. This can help you find the assistance you need to make college more affordable and accessible.

Have questions about financial aid? Connect with our financial aid office. They can guide you through the process and help set you up for success. 

Blog: All Things Higher Ed posted | Last Modified: | Author: by University Communications | Categories: University Communications
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