Paying for college is a huge challenge for millions of families. College can cost upwards of $80,000 a year if you pay full price, so maximizing financial aid and qualifying for scholarships is critical.
College Financial Aid Types
There are two types of financial aid for college:
- Need-based aid that depends on a family’s or the student’s financial situation
- Merit-based aid based on the student’s grades, extracurricular accomplishments, or other criteria
Each of these, in turn, has many types. Need-based aid can come from the federal government, state government, colleges, or other institutions. Merit-based assistance can come from colleges, nonprofits, or other scholarship donors. And then, there are other sources of help, such as the Department of Veterans Affairs, which offers assistance to veterans and their dependents, or the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) scholarships for students interested in joining the military reserve corps.
How Financial Aid Works
As with everything else in the American college admissions system, maximizing financial aid depends on understanding a complex process and navigating the system correctly. So you don’t simply apply to college, fill out a financial aid form, and find out how much college will cost or how much aid you will receive. You have to run a gauntlet of obstacles.
Roughly, the process works as follows:
- Submit Your College Applications
- Apply for College-Specific Scholarships, if those applications are needed
- Apply for Federal Student Aid by submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
- Apply for State Aid on state websites
- Apply for Institutional Aid (money from colleges) by submitting the FAFSA and the CSS/Profile, if that is needed
- Submit College Aid Applications if Needed
- Apply for Outside Scholarships
- Apply for Veterans or Dependent Assistance
Each involves multiple steps, so we have provided a guide to the process.
The LifeLaunchr Three-Part Webinar Series: Maximizing Your Financial Aid
|Maximize Financial Aid: Your Guide to Filling out the FAFSA
|This presentation will show you how to fill out the FAFSA to maximize your aid opportunities. The form is simple to fill out, but filling it out correctly, depending on your circumstances, is critical, so don’t miss the webinar.
|Maximize Financial Aid: Your Guide to Filling out the CSS/Profile
|This presentation will show you how to figure out if you need to fill out the CSS/Profile and to fill it out to maximize your aid opportunities. The form is simple to fill out, but it is critical, depending on your circumstances, so don’t miss the webinar.
|Maximize Financial Aid: Your Guide to College and Outside Scholarships
|Besides need-based financial aid awarded through the FAFSA and CSS/Profile, colleges also offer merit-based scholarships using various criteria. This webinar will walk you through how you can find out and apply for these scholarships.
Filling Out the FAFSA
The first part of LifeLaunchr’s three-part webinar series on maximizing financial aid is about the FAFSA. The webinar explains how the FAFSA works and provides resources that help you fill it out correctly and completely in a way that maximizes your financial aid.
To sign up and watch, click here. If you have questions as you watch, you can ask them, and we will attempt to answer them.
You can also read our blog post about filling out the FAFSA. It provides a helpful step-by-step guide.
Filling out the CSS/Profile
The College Board’s CSS/Profile form is used by many private – and some public – institutions to award their own (institutional) money in aid. The second part of our three-part series explains how the CSS/Profile differs from the FAFSA and how you can decide if you need to fill it out. It also helps you understand where it fits into the process and how to fill it out.
To sign up and watch, click here. As with the FAFSA webinar, you can ask any questions, and we will attempt to answer them.
Our blog post on the CSS/Profile also provides a valuable guide to the form.
Applying for College and Outside Scholarships
College scholarships are the biggest pot of merit-based aid to help pay for college. That’s because colleges don’t offer you real money: they discount their tuition and fees. College costs are like airline tickets: everyone gets the same experience but pays different amounts. Not all colleges offer merit-based aid, and some, as a matter of policy, only offer need-based aid. Furthermore, not all merit-based aid is the same. Some colleges count loans as merit-based aid; some don’t. Again, understanding the system helps a lot.
In addition to these college scholarships, students can apply for scholarships from outside sources. There are significant scholarships, like the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation award. There are also thousands of smaller awards.
The third of LifeLaunchr’s three-part webinar series deals with merit-based aid. It helps you understand how to find these scholarships and how to apply. To sign up and watch, click here. As with the other two webinars, you can ask any questions, and we will attempt to answer them.
On our blog, you’ll also see the post “Myths About Scholarships,” which debunks several myths about outside scholarships. Building a practice of applying for scholarships regularly through college can be immensely helpful.
Understanding the System Helps
Financial aid, like every part of the American college application process, is complicated, and understanding the system makes a big difference. So take the time to watch these webinars, read the blog posts, and use the resources they suggest.