Checklist: Finding College Aid

Finding college aid is a combination of filling out the FAFSA® and looking for other kinds of aid, like scholarships. Because the cost of college is rising, most students or their families cannot afford to pay for college out-of-pocket. That makes finding as many types of aid as possible very important. Financial aid greatly impacts whether certain students can attend college, so you need to know exactly where to look.

Fill Out the FAFSA®

The first step for any prospective college student seeking financial aid is filling out the FAFSA®. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is how you apply for Stafford Loans and Pell Grants. The financial information you use to fill out the FAFSA® is how many colleges evaluate how much aid they can offer you. The FAFSA® is your first and most important step in seeking college financial aid.

Check for State Aid

Some states only need your FAFSA® application to consider you for state aid. Other states need additional financial information. Don’t assume your FAFSA® automatically makes you eligible for state aid. Check with your state’s education department to find out if you need to complete additional steps.

When applying for state aid, remember, some states award aid until their funds run out. That means the earlier you apply, the likelier you are to receive financial aid. You also need to be aware of state deadlines, which often happen earlier than the federal deadline.

Apply for Scholarships

The school you’ll be attending has scholarships that students can apply for. This is just your first step in finding scholarships, because many other organizations offer college scholarships, from the Miss America program to your local Rotary organization. Scholarship websites will help you discover scholarships you’re eligible for based on other demographics. Be aware that some scholarship applications are scams, so research the scholarships you find before applying.

Look for Private Loans

When you don’t receive the amount of financial aid you need, sometimes you need to seek out a private student loan. These loans are separate from the aid you receive when you fill out the FAFSA®.

Seeking a private loan should be your last step because you won’t know what kind of aid you receive until you’ve already chosen a college and applied for scholarships. If, after receiving aid from your school and winning some scholarships, you still cannot make up the rest of the bill with your own funds, a private student loan is a possibility.

Keep in mind that you need credit to take out a private loan. Since few high school students have established credit, you’ll probably need your parents to cosign for you. Your interest payments also might not be tax-deductible.

Finding college aid takes time, and you won’t know exactly what kind of aid you’re receiving until you choose a school. Because financial aid awards often impact what schools students can attend, knowing where else to look for aid (outside of the FAFSA®) can help you attend the college of your dreams.