What every high school senior should know about financial aid

The process of applying for financial aid can be confusing. With so many deadlines and forms to submit, students filling out college applications can often get overwhelmed. However, applying for student loans, grants and scholarships is one of the most important parts of the entire college application process. Here are five things to think about when you’re considering applying for financial aid.

Figure out exactly how much your degree will cost: Don’t leave anything to chance when it comes to financing your education. Before you submit any college application or financial aid paperwork, you should know exactly how much you’ll need to pay to earn your degree. Tuition isn’t the only expense you should take into account – don’t forget to factor in other things like course materials and room and board if you’re planning to live on campus. Know exactly what you’re getting into before you start.

Know your definitions: One of the most confusing things about financial aid paperwork is knowing what the specific terms mean. You’ll probably encounter phrases such as the “cost of attendance” (CoA), which is the full estimated cost of one year of school. The “expected family contribution” (EFC) is how much your family will be expected to contribute toward the cost of your education, based on data provided in the FAFSA. “Need” is the difference between the CoA and the EFC.

Not all financial aid forms are created equal: Although they may look similar, financial aid forms can be very different. For example, the FAFSA may ask for some information that a university’s own application form might not. Financial aid paperwork can also vary from one state to another, and this can be especially confusing if you’re filling out college applications for several schools in different parts of the country.

Deadlines are very important: If there’s one form you don’t want to submit late, it’s your financial aid paperwork. Sending in an application after a deadline can affect how much money you’ll receive, and some agencies won’t disperse any money if they don’t receive your application on time. Get the forms filled out as soon as possible.

Everyone should apply: Even if your family is paying for most, or all, of your education, you may not be aware of merit-based financial aid packages such as scholarships unless you submit an application. If you don’t need student loans, you don’t have to accept them – but you might miss out on a scholarship if you don’t apply.

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