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An Overview of Federal Student Aid

What is federal student aid and how can it be used? Federal student aid is monetary assistance to an eligible student to pay for educational expenses at a postsecondary school. A postsecondary school might be a college, vocational school or graduate school. Student aid may come in the form of grants, work-study programs or loans. Your postsecondary school (the school your child plans to attend) can tell you which financial aid programs they offer. Federal student aid can be used for tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies (including a computer), school related transportation and dependent care.

Who qualifies for federal student aid? Eligible students are: a) in financial need, b) U.S. citizens or qualified noncitizens, c) in possession of a valid Social Security number and d) qualified to participate in a postsecondary education program.

How do you get the process for federal student aid started? The first step is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form can be completed online or in a paper format. To use FAFSA online go to www.fafsa.ed.gov. To get a paper copy call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at (1-800-433-3243). You can apply beginning January 1, and it is important to apply as early as possible. Some schools use the FAFSA information to award nonfederal aid. So, again, apply as soon as possible. Check with the postsecondary school of your choice to get their deadlines.

After you apply, you will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR). An important part of your SAR is the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) section. This tells you, based on your family's financial situation, if you are eligible for federal student aid. The schools you listed on your FAFSA will also automatically get this information.

Contact the financial aid office at each school you're considering and make sure they have all the information needed to determine your eligibility. You should get an award letter outlining the amount and types of aid the school will offer you. Compare letters to decide which school would be best for you.

There is a great deal of misinformation about filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form. Here are some of the myths about federal student aid.

I won't qualify, because my parents make too much money. Your eligibility is determined by a number of factors, not just by your parents' income. Also, when you fill out the FAFSA, you're automatically applying for funds from your state and your school.

Only students with good grades get financial aid. Satisfactory academic progress is generally the only grade requirement for student aid. You don't have to be a rocket scientist.

You must be a minority to get financial help. Information about race is not even collected on the FAFSA. Financial aid depends on financial need, not race.

The form is too hard to fill out. The form is not hard to fill out. You can get help online from a customer service representative. If you fill out the paper form, you can get help from your high school counselor or your talent search counselor/tutor.

For additional information:

Call the Federal Student Aid Information Center: 1 800-433-3243


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