Federal student aid consists of three different types of awards that can help you pay for school. These three types of awards are grants, work-study opportunities, and loans. All you need to do is complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). This application is the gateway to all types of federal student aid.
Awards Available Through Federal Student Aid
Grants are the most attractive type of federal student aid because you do not need to repay them. The most common federal grant for students is the Pell Grant, which is awarded based on financial need. If a student shows a greater financial need, then they may qualify for the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG). Other grants include the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant available for students becoming teachers and the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant available to dependents of U.S. Armed Forces servicemembers who died during service in Iraq/Afghanistan after September 11, 2001.
Work-study awards from the federal government allow colleges to hire students for part-time work on or near campus. The typical work-study award is for approximately 10 hours per week. This allows you to easily earn money to help pay for college.
Loans are the easiest type of federal student aid to get. When you take out a loan, you must agree to pay it back with interest. While some loans are only available to students with financial need, others are available to all students. The best loans are subsidized Direct Loans and Perkins Loans, which the government pays interest on while you are in school. The federal government also offers unsubsidized Direct Loans to students and PLUS loans, which are for parents and graduate students. In general, independent students can borrow much more money than dependent students, whose parents are expected to help pay for college.
How to Apply for Federal Student Aid
To determine eligibility and financial need, you must complete the FAFSA for each school year. Beginning in 2016, the application will be available in October for the school year that starts the following fall. Therefore, you can access the FAFSA for the 2017-18 school year as early as October 1, 2016.
Start by completing the FAFSA. You will need to fill in your personal information to create an account and start an application. If you are a dependent student, you should let your parents know you will need their personal information for the FAFSA as well. Most undergraduate students are considered dependent for the FAFSA, unless they are age 24 or older, married, provide support for dependents, have served in active duty military, or are legally separated from their parents.
Next, fill in all of the requested financial information based on bank statements and your latest tax return. For school years 2016-17 and before, you must provide tax information from the prior year on the FAFSA. Beginning with the FAFSA for the 2017-18 school year, you can use prior-prior year income information. Therefore, your tax returns from 2015 will be used to calculate your financial aid award for 2017-18.
Finally, list the schools that should receive your financial aid information. Prospective students should list all schools they have applied to, but returning students can just list their current school. When you submit your FAFSA, the government will send the results to your school. Then the school's financial aid office will notify you of your federal student aid award.