As part of the U.S. Department of Education, Federal Student Aid is designed and implemented to help students and families realize their dream of getting a college education.  Currently, the Federal Student Aid program awards over 14 million students and families financial aid for post-secondary education, to the tune of over $100 BILLION each year.  Some of this aid is in the form of a loan, and some in the form of grant and scholarship money which does not need to be paid back.

How do I qualify for Federal Student Aid?

In order to be considered for Federal Student Aid, you need to meet a few criteria.  First, you need to fill out the FAFSA or Free Application For Federal Student Aid.  By doing so, you will be considered for any/all Federal Student Aid, as well as any regional, state or private student aid programs.  Additionally, you will need to be enrolled in a participating, post-secondary educational institution to be considered for aid.  Basically, you have to be enrolled in a 2 or 4 year college or university, career school or trade school.  The vast majority of schools participate in the FAFSA program, but it doesn’t hurt to make sure before you fill out the application.

Once approved, you will get a notification of how much you are eligible to receive.  It’s awarded on a yearly basis, and is renewable each year you are enrolled in school.  Depending on what school you attend and how much tuition and expenses are, your FAFSA award could increase the longer you’re in enrolled in school.  Financial aid can only be used for educational expenses.  Things such as tuition, room and board, books, school supplies and transportation are all acceptable.

Types of Federal Student Aid

Below are the three basic types of Federal Student Aid:

  • Grants – Grants are aid money that does not need to be repaid.  It is based on information provided on your FAFSA application regarding income and your overall need for Federal Student Aid.  Other factors that are taken into consideration in addition to your FAFSA info are cost of attendance and enrollment status.  The different types include Federal Grants, Merit Based Grants, Minority Grants and Need Based Grants to name a few.  For a more complete list, visit FAFSA.
  • Loans – Loans are the most popular type and are awarded to most students that apply using the FAFSA.  Loans do need to be repaid, but depending on the information entered on your application, you may or may not have to pay interest on that loan.  Most Federal Student Aid loans are unsubsidized, meaning you’ll be paying the loan back with interest.  If you still need more aid than the Federal Government is willing to provide you, look into Private Student Loans.
  • Federal Work Study (FWS) – This program provides jobs for needy students to help pay for their educational expenses while attending classes at the school.  Usually, the job consists of working for the school in some capacity, and in many cases, relates to the student’s area of study.  Not all schools participate in Federal Work Study, so check with your school ahead of time.  Visit here for more information on Federal Work Study.

To start the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), go to FAFSA.ed.gov.  Once you get your report back from them, there will be an amount that is considered your EFC, which is basically the tuition money you are expected to pay for.  If you cannot afford this amount, please don’t let that deter you from attending college!  There are other ways to make ends meet, and one of them is through Private Student Loans.  A great resource to start comparing options is at Simple Tuition.  They offer a FREE search for private educational loans that will help in paying for college.

Also, you can find additional scholarship and grant money by using FastWeb’s Free Scholarship Search as another resource.