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4 Common questions about financial aid for college

Sending a child to college is a momentous time in a parent's life. It's usually the first time the child fully leaves the nest and strikes out on their own, and their college experience will define their life for years to come. Unfortunately, it's also an expensive time, with college tuition ranging in cost from $26,027 for in-state institutions to an eye-watering $108,364 for out-of-state colleges.

Fortunately, if you don't have the resources to pay for your child's college education out of pocket, there are options, including financial aid. If you're wondering whether financial assistance is right for you and your family, or you've just started the process of applying for financial aid, here are four questions you need to answer.

1. What types of financial aid are available?

Financial aid for college tuition usually comes from several sources, including:

Government loans: To be eligible, you'll need to demonstrate financial need, be accepted to an eligible degree or program, and maintain satisfactory academic progress.

Scholarships: Scholarships can be based on your academic performance, athletics, or your ethnicity and can come from your college, high school, or another organization. Keep in mind that some schools subtract private scholarships from your financial aid award package.

College savings: If you or your parents contributed to a 529 college fund, that money can be used to pay college tuition.

Federal grants: Grants like the Pell Grant is awarded to students with exceptional financial need and doesn't have to be repaid.

Work-study programs: A federal program that provides part-time jobs for students with financial needs to help them pay for their college tuition and expenses.

Payment plans: The college may offer installments throughout the school year. Make sure to ask about interest charges or fees.
When should you apply for financial aid?

2. When should I apply for financial aid?

Students must apply for financial aid using the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Colleges use this application to figure out how much financial assistance you'll receive and how much parents are expected to contribute. The federal deadline to submit the FAFSA is the June 30th before the fall semester begins.

Remember that colleges may have their own deadlines, so be sure to check with the college you are interested in attending. You should also make sure you are clear on what the college means by deadline. Do they mean the date the application has to be submitted or the date it has to be processed?

Finally, each state has its own deadlines for state student aid which can include grants and loans. It's essential that you submit your FAFSA application on time because late submissions can delay your financial aid, reduce the amount you receive, or you might not receive any aid at all.

3. Will my financial aid change from year to year?

While your financial aid package might be more or less than you hoped for in the first year, that might not always be the case because you'll need to re-apply for financial aid every year using the FAFSA application. Your application will be assessed, and the amount you receive could go up or down depending on factors like your earnings, academic performance, and competition for scholarships or bursaries.

Your financial situation is a significant factor in determining whether your financial aid amount goes up or down. For example, if the student or the student's parents earn significantly more or less money, the amount of aid received could increase or decrease dramatically.

4. When will I receive my financial aid?

Before you receive your financial aid, you get a letter in the mail that explains exactly what financial aid you'll receive. This letter comes directly from your college and will outline the different sources of financial aid you'll receive, your total cost of attendance, whether there is an amount you'll need to pay out of pocket, along with when you can expect to receive your financial aid.

Each school pays out financial aid on its own schedule, but your financial aid will usually be paid out in two disbursements. The first installment will be paid before the start of the first term and the second one before the beginning of the spring term. You should check with the financial aid office at your college to determine precisely when you can expect to receive your aid package. Remember that submitting your application on time is essential for receiving your financial aid before the beginning of classes. If you haven't paid your tuition before classes start, you may not be able to attend.

Attending college is a landmark moment in both a child's and parent's life. For a student, it represents the beginning of adulthood and real independence, and for a parent, the end of a chapter in their lives. The financial cost of attending college might be cheaper than you think; by applying for financial aid, you may be surprised at how accessible higher education can be.



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