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Getting financial aid

What do you think?

Before you get started, think about how you would answer the following questions.

  1. What are some ways that you have saved money for a specific item?
  2. What are the advantages and disadvantages of paying for items with cash versus a debit or credit card?
  3. Would you consider working while you are in college?
  4. What ways do you have for spending less than you earn?

Money matters

Going to college is expensive, but you do have some financial options. Generally, community colleges are the least expensive, followed by four-year public colleges, with the most expensive being the four-year private universities. Don’t rule out an expensive college of your choice until you have researched the array of financial aid options available to you. Most people will create their own financial aid packages that include dollars that their family can contribute, personal savings, awarded scholarships and federal loans.

What is financial aid?

Financial aid is monetary assistance that allows individuals to pay the costs of attending college when their own resources are not enough. Some aid, such as scholarships, does not need to be repaid, while other assistance, like loans, does need to be repaid.

There are four types of financial aid (Heath Resource Center, 2007):

  1. Grants – Aid that generally does not have to be repaid.
  2. Loans – Money borrowed to cover school costs, which must be repaid, usually with interest, over a specified period of time, typically after the student has graduated or left school. The interest on these loans is often reduced from general public rates.
  3. Work-study – Employment that enables a student to earn money toward a portion of school costs during or between periods of enrollment. These usually on-campus positions are supplemented by the federal government. Students are awarded work-study positions through the Federal Student Aid application. However, a student must interview and be hired for each position that is worked.
  4. Scholarships – Gifts and awards based on a student’s academic achievement, background or other criteria. Sometimes scholarships are one time only; others require the student to maintain a specific GPA to be entitled for renewal.

Getting financial aid

First, you need to determine your expenses for college such as tuition, books, transportation, housing costs and food. Then you need to determine how much you and your family are able to contribute to your education. The difference between these amounts is considered your financial need.

Applying for financial aid requires effort and determination. Each college has a financial aid office. When you are visiting schools, it is a good idea to stop by this office, ask questions and pick up the paperwork necessary for application. Some colleges offer need-based financial assistance. In these situations, the less money you or your family has, the greater the chance that you can receive financial assistance from the college.

It’s also important to find out how each school defines part-time and full-time students. Your financial awards could be affected by how many courses you take each semester. For example, allowances for room and board may be eliminated entirely for students enrolled less than half time. Be sure to check with the financial aid office about all options available at the college.

You can count on having to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form that is online at www.fafsa.ed.gov. Many libraries and financial aid offices also have a hard copy. Start looking into this your senior year and check your college’s due date. You will also need your tax return from the previous year and your pay stubs. Additional information may be required. You can send this application to six schools. Being early and accurate in your application is considered to be one of the most important steps in securing aid.

Check with your guidance office to see if there is a specific person that works with students on financial aid options. Often schools will hold meetings during the evening or at other times for students and families to learn how to complete a FAFSA form, or the guidance office will provide Web sites for you to explore various scholarship or loan programs.

Disability-related aid

Disability-related expenses also need to be factored into your equation for financial need. These expenses could include costs for a personal attendant, adaptive computer technology that is required to access college information or fees for private tutoring for a specific class. See Page 7 of Creating Options: 2007 Financial Aid for Individuals with Disabilities [PDF] for further information and how to submit these costs with your application.

Your state vocational rehabilitation department may be able to provide some assistance with financial aid. If you are determined to be eligible for vocational rehabilitation services or if your disability substantially impedes your employment goal and you require these services for employment after you graduate, a counselor can work with you to determine if vocational rehabilitation can provide any financial assistance to you.


There are several ways to locate scholarships. Each scholarship has different criteria, application processes and deadlines.

  1. Check the College Board Web site to search scholarships.
  2. Ask at your high school for information about local scholarships.
  3. For scholarships for persons with disabilities, see pages 15-19 of Creating Options: 2007 Financial Aid for Individuals with Disabilities [PDF].

Budgeting your money

Learning to manage your money goes hand in hand with getting financial assistance. You may be surprised how many credit card companies are willing to issue a card to you. Many times, you will be walking around campus and you’ll find a credit card representative wanting you to sign up for a credit card. Usually they will try and entice you with a freebie like a T-shirt. It is important to talk with a family member or someone who knows you well to discuss obtaining a credit card. If you are not a good money manager, it is not recommended to accept and use these cards while at school. Many companies charge high interest on unpaid balances. Check out some tips on learning to budget in eSources.