Facing Financial Aid Fears

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If anyone says they enjoy applying for financial aid, they are lying. Between the competing deadlines, forms, and requirements, successfully applying for and getting financial aid is no small achievement for a student.

How can librarians and educators help? Below are four steps that will help organize your students as they prepare to take (and pay for) the next important step in their lives.

1. Know the Deadlines

Deadlines, so many deadlines.  So let’s break it down.

All financial aid roads begin with submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). If your students are graduating this spring they should be filling out the application for the 2017-2018 academic year.  The deadline for submitting this application is June 3o, 2018.

BUT, don’t let them wait until the last minute.

Because there are two other important deadlines: the deadline for your state and the deadline for the student’s school. For a student to receive financial aid from their home state or from the institution they will be attending, they must often submit the FAFSA much earlier.

Really, don’t wait. If you haven’t already heard, the IRS Data Retrieval Tool is down, which saved time and energy by automatically entering tax return information to the FASFA application.

Seriously, sooner is way better than later. Note that some federal student aid programs have limited funds, so it’s especially important to apply ASAP to maximize a student’s possibility of receiving the most aid he or she qualifies for.

2. Educate Them on Their Options

Is college the best path for them? 

For students still on the fence, explain the possible options for achieving a higher education and the value in doing so. There are many factors to consider when helping them decide. What are they good at? What do they enjoy? What is important to them? A detailed explanation of how to do a self-assessment, including a comprehensive list of questions can be found in Chapter 1 of College Financing for Teens, 3rd Edition. Although the book won’t be published until April, Chapter 1 can be downloaded here and the book can be pre-ordered here.

Discuss types of colleges

After getting an idea for what direction would be suitable for a student, it’s now time to help him or her come up with viable options of where to attend. When creating a list of possibilities with the student, consider the different types of schools listed below and any other options the student may already be considering, along with the costs, location, and accreditation associated with each.

  • Public and private four-year colleges and universities
  • Two-year community colleges or junior colleges
  • Career schools
  • Online Schools

Discuss cost and types of financial aid

This is the tricky part. Considering the fact that the student is applying for financial aid, it’s probably safe to assume that they will need financial assistance to help pay for college.

How much does college cost? What aid is available for them? How much will they be able to afford? All of these questions take many variables into account when factoring. There are several calculators available that can help figure out how much school will cost, how much needs to saved, and how much aid will be needed.

It’s important to understand what types of loans are offered. Generally, they fall into two categories: Federal Student Loans and Private Student Loans. A detailed explanation of the differences between the two is discussed in Chapter 29 of College Financing for Teens, 3rd Edition. Although the book won’t be published until April, Chapter 29 can be downloaded here and the book can be pre-ordered here.  When discussing these options be sure to mention the various types of aid from the list below:

  • Scholarships
  • Work Study Programs
  • Student Loans
  • Federal Perkins Loan
  • Direct Subsidized Federal Loan (also known as a Stafford Loan)
  • Direct Unsubsidized Federal Loan
  • Direct PLUS Loan

3. Get Them Prepared

Below is a list of information the student will need to provide in order to complete the FASFA application. It is especially important to have all of these items prior to starting the application given that the IRS Data Retrieval Tool is currently down. Most students are likely a dependent of an adult, so they will need to provide the same set of information for their parents or guardian as well:

  • Social Security Number
  • Income Records
  • 2015 Federal Tax Returns
  • Bank Statements

4. Offer Support Throughout the Process

If you and your student are still stumped by some unanswered questions, assist them in contacting the financial aid office at their intended college or career school. Some schools will use special software to submit the FAFSA for them.

It’s taken a lot of work to get to this point; however, as an educator supporting the student does not end once the application is submitted. It’s important to be there once financial aid is awarded to help them clearly understand what funding they are being offered, what aid they want to accept, and how to respond indicating so.

Applying for financial aid is a small piece of the overall puzzle that will complete a student’s successful future. The transition from general education to higher education can be stressful and confusing. Offering support as an educator throughout this process will help build the confidence students need to make smart decisions now and later in life.

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