4 Financial Aid Tips for Students

Navigating financial aid options can be one of the most daunting parts of applying to college. Yet, it’s often a necessary part of the application process, whether or not you need help paying for college through financial aid. Some financial aid tips for students include understanding how you apply for aid and identifying what kinds of loans are offered, as well as making sure you are educated on all financial aid opportunities available to you.

The various financial aid options for students include:

  • Loans - money that must be paid back

  • Scholarships - money that must be earned through some kind of qualifying factor

  • Work-study - access to part-time, on-campus work opportunities

  • Grants - money gifted to you that does not need to be paid back

Read on for more detailed financial aid tips for students applying to college:

Financial Aid Tip #1: Get all the appropriate information and paperwork

It’s necessary to complete some paperwork in order to receive financial aid of any type. If you do not complete any financial aid forms, you will not learn whether or not you qualify for aid. Every type of aid has its own qualifying factors, which can include your parents’ income level, your high school grades, and your standardized test scores.

So, even if you’re not sure whether you will qualify for financial aid, it’s important to apply and find out.

Financial Aid Tip #2: Look into FAFSA as soon as you can

Some of the most well-known and widely available form of financial aid is federal assistance provided by the U.S. government. Students apply for this kind of aid using FAFSA, or the “Free Application for Federal Student Aid,” which is available online and should be completed with the help of a parent or legal guardian. Completing this form will help determine whether or not you qualify for loans, scholarships, grants, and work-study opportunities.

[RELATED: 3 Questions to Ask Your College About Financial Aid]

You can start working on and filing your FAFSA, for free, as soon as October 1st each year. Prior to 2016, the initial FAFSA filing date had been January 1st. Take advantage of this new early date and begin filling out your FAFSA as soon as possible. This helps free up your time as the application process progresses, and it helps you determine what kind of aid you qualify for early—and you can use that information to help shape your college decision.

Financial Aid Tip #3: Know the difference between “direct subsidized” and “unsubsidized” student loans

If you complete a FAFSA, chances are you will qualify for one or two types of federal loans. It is important to know the differences between direct subsidized and unsubsidized loans. Subsidized loans are loans where the government pays the interest, while they do not pay the interest on unsubsidized loans.

In short, taking a subsidized loan means you will only have to pay back the government the exact balance of the loan you took. On the other hand, if you take an unsubsidized loan, you will have to pay back the exact balance of the loan you took as well as any accumulated interest. The longer you take to pay back your unsubsidized loans, the greater your accumulated interest will be. This difference is important to understand before you accept or decline any aid.  

Financial Aid Tip #4: Talk with your guidance counselor about financial aid opportunities

One of the best places to learn more about your financial aid options is through your high school’s guidance office. Schedule an appointment to sit down with your counselor and discuss your financial situation and college options with him or her.

Your counselor can recommend scholarship opportunities you may wish to check out, as well as scholarships offered by the colleges you’re interested in. He or she may also be able to recommend colleges with work-study programs that can make paying for college easier.

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