If you are still in high school, the best way for you to start your financial planning is to visit the counseling office at your school or the counseling office at the college you plan to attend. If you have been out of high school for some time, the staff at the high school you attended will be happy to assist you with your college preparations. If you're interested in applying to a particular college, call the financial aid office for an appointment. They can give you all of the information you need about tuition payment plans, and qualifying for student loans, scholarships, and grants.
Applying for financial aid
Before receiving financial aid of any sort (loans, grants, or scholarships) you will be required to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). If you are a dependent student (still supported by your parents), you will be asked to include financial information reported on your income tax returns and your parent's or guardian's income tax returns. Independent students will not need to include parent or guardian information. There are a few questions on the first page of the form that help you determine if you are a dependent or an independent student.
- Submit the FAFSA as early as possible. Most financial aid is distributed on a first-come first-serve basis. You can submit the FAFSA as early as January 1st of the year you intend to enter college by using estimated income tax information. Once you file your income tax returns, you can update the FAFSA if necessary. Several weeks after you submit the FAFSA, you will receive a student aid report. The school you plan to attend will use the report to determine your expected family contribution (EFC) and your student aid package.
- Pay attention to deadlines. If a college has set a deadline for when financial aid information is due, make sure you get the information in by that date. Otherwise, you might miss out on school grants and scholarships. Schools generally use the financial aid information to create a financial aid package and award letter. They generally award school-based aid to those applicants who returned all necessary paperwork on time. If you missed the deadline, you may still be eligible for federal aid such as Stafford loans, PELL grants, and PLUS loans.
- PELL grants (federal grants) are awarded on the basis of financial need, and they don't need to be paid back. The information on the FAFSA will determine whether or not you qualify for a PELL grant.
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