Federal Student Aid Facts and Tips

Student aid

The cost of a college education can be a showstopper for many military members considering pursuit of a degree. But here are some facts about college funding that might surprise you:

  • 82 percent of graduates didn't pay for college.
  • Many of the remaining 18 percent were assisted by grants, loans, and scholarships.
  • Financial aid programs help virtually every college student.
  • 60 percent of all aid is in the form of educational loans.

Federal regulations now permit virtually all U.S. citizens to receive some form of assistance. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid — or FAFSA — is the first step toward paying for college. Here are some things to keep in mind when filling it out the FAFSA:

Once completed, the eight pages and 146 items in a FAFSA application are processed and placed in a federal database that college financial aid administrators can download electronically. Colleges and schools require the FAFSA so they can reliably review financial aid needs and credit-worthiness.

FAFSA establishes baseline for funding college — As a result of lower federal need standards more people are eligible for need-based types of financial aid. FAFSA helps establish the basic equation used to determine a student's financial aid eligibility or "need" using the Expected Family Contribution formula. In the past a student and their parent's assets — including homes — routinely limited access to some financial aid. New federal guidelines — and FAFSA — have improved every student's chances of getting some form of financial support.

It links students to federal Stafford/Direct Loans — Most students who receive a financial aid award will have either the subsidized or unsubsidized Federal Stafford/Direct Loan as part of their package. Participating schools will mail out a financial aid award letter outlining the process for receiving Federal Direct Loan Program funds. FAFSA also provides the basis for funds directly from the U.S. Treasury and Department of Education, including Perkins Loans, Pell Grants, Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, Work-Study, etc. These funds are normally paid to colleges after the student signs a master Promissory Note.

It is best to complete FAFSA early — It is best to complete the FAFSA as soon as possible after Jan. 1 each year. Most schools publish financial aid deadline or preferred filing dates. That means they award their limited need-based funds first to those students who meet their deadline dates. And many schools award their funds on a first-come, first-served basis. But don't stop looking even if a school's or granting agency's deadline date is missed. Other financial aid (including the Federal Stafford/Direct Loans) might still be available.

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