Most financial aid is awarded based on your financial need. Your financial need is based on the difference between what it will cost you to attend a particular college and what you and your family can contribute toward your college expenses. While most colleges expect you and your family to contribute toward your education, financial aid can help close the gap between your resources and college costs.
Types of Financial Aid
The most common types of aid are grants, scholarships, loans and work-study.
Grants are financial aid you don’t have to repay and usually are based on financial need. Pell Grants (Federal) and Cal Grants (California) are the largest sources of free money from the government.
Scholarships are also sources of free money you don’t have to pay back and usually are not based on financial need. Instead, they may recognize grades or test scores, special talents, heritage, athletic or leadership ability or community services. For a continuously updated list of available scholarships, be sure to check our Scholarship Calendar.
Work Study Programs let you earn money for your schooling through a job on or off campus. Funding sources for work study programs come from the federal and state government, as well as the college directly.
Loans are borrowed dollars that must be repaid, with interest. There are federal loans and alternative or private loans for students and parents. The loans are often not expected to be paid back until you graduate or stop going to college.
You’ll also want to explore other options, including AmeriCorps, military and tax benefits and employment opportunities.
Tip: Ask if the college or trade school you plan to attend offers special tuition payment plans. A summer job and part-time work during the school year can also go a long way. If you haven’t already done so, start a college fund
FAFSA and Expected Family Contribution
To apply for federal and state financial aid, you’ll need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. The FAFSA is used to establish the amount of money a family (and student) is expected to contribute for his/her education. The expected family contribution (EFC) is subtracted from the estimated cost to attend the university and the difference is the amount one qualifies for in financial aid.
Whether you apply online at the FAFSA Website or on paper, it’s free. If applying online, go to the FAFSA PIN Site to get PIN numbers at least a month before you intend to start your FAFSA application. Both the student and the parent must have a PIN number that serves as an electronic signature for the online FAFSA application.
Many colleges and state agencies also use/require the FAFSA to award their own student aid dollars. The priority filing period for the FAFSA is October 1-March 2. SCHS provides an evening workshop for completing the FAFSA each year. Check the website and listen to the bulletin for information about the workshop.
Calculating Your EFC (Expected Family Contribution)
The following are taken into account when calculating your EFC:
Your income and your parents’ income
Your assets and your parents’ assets, including savings, stocks, mutual funds, college savings plans, real estate investments and trusts
The age of your older parent
The number of children and other dependents in your family
The number of children in college
Unusual or extenuating circumstances
Your expected family contribution, or EFC, is the amount of money that you and your parents can reasonably contribute toward your education. It’s determined by a federal formula, using the information you provide on your FAFSA. The higher your EFC, the more you and your family will be expected to contribute toward your college costs, and the less your calculated financial need.
Whether your college costs are high or low, your EFC will be the same for federal and state aid, but you may be eligible for different types and amounts of aid at different colleges. For example, if you plan to attend a CSU that estimates your yearly expenses will be $15,000 and your EFC was determined by your FAFSA to be $5,000, you are eligible to receive $10,000 in aid from the CSU. If, however, you are accepted at “XXX” private university, where your estimated yearly expenses might be $40,000, your EFC remains the same ($5,000) and you will qualify for $35,000 in financial aid at “XXX” private university. They are not obligated to meet the amount you qualify for, but the FAFSA helps them determine your level of need.
Other Financial Aid Forms
Many independent (private) colleges and scholarship organizations require additional forms, such as the College Board’s CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE©, to help them award institutional financial aid. Unlike the FAFSA, the PROFILE costs money to file and send to each college that requests it, although fee waivers are available. The PROFILE can be submitted on paper or online. To learn more, contact your college’s financial aid office, call 800-778-6888 or go to the College Board Website.
General Info and Tips
The federal government is the largest source of money for college (Pell Grants), but student aid is also available from states, colleges, community organizations, corporations and foundations. Your high school counselor, your school’s scholarship advisor or your college’s financial aid administrator can give you a head start. In addition, check out the Web. Be sure to apply early, meet deadlines, and use an email address you check often as that is the primary way colleges, financial aid offices, and scholarships will attempt to communicate with you.
If you cannot meet your EFC, or if your financial situation changes substantially, contact your financial aid office and be prepared to provide supporting documents. In some cases, the financial aid administrator may consider unusual circumstances, such as, exceptionally high medical bills, the care of a grandparent, etc. that may affect your eligibility for federal and state aid.
Be sure to send any additional information regarding your special circumstances directly to each college’s financial aid office. Contact each one first to see how and when the information is needed.
Don’t disqualify yourself. If your family’s income is too high, you may not receive need-based aid, but you could still qualify for scholarships, work-study or low-interest student loans. So be sure to apply—it’s also a good safety net if your family’s financial situation suddenly changes.