Financial Aid 101
There’s more to financial aid than you think. Some people think it’s all loans; others think it’s all grants and scholarships. What many people don’t know is that “work study” is also a part of financial aid, where students can get paid to work while in school. Here we discuss all elements of financial aid, from loans and grants, to scholarships and work study.
What is FASFA?
The FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It’s and is exactly what its name reads: FREE. The application itself can be overwhelming, but don’t get discouraged. There are staff members at our school who can assist if you are struggling.
The FAFSA is the application for federal grants like the Pell Grant. Your home state will use the FAFSA to determine if you are eligible for state grants, the most common in New Jersey is the NJ Tuition Aid Grant (TAG). Most schools will also use the FAFSA to determine additional grant money that the school has available. Even if you don’t think that you will be eligible, please complete the FAFSA for at least the first year. We can’t try to give you money if you don’t complete the application.
Some schools will also ask that you complete the CSS Profile. This application does have a fee associated with it, so check to see if you need it. Contact your school to confirm.
Let’s talk about grants and scholarships. Most people call this “free money” or “gift aid” because it seems so nice and it doesn’t have to be repaid. However, for those who earn (note that I use the word “earn”) a scholarship, they have already put in the work by being successful in high school. Grants are “free money” based on the FAFSA. Make sure that you ask about which one(s) you are eligible for and understand what you need to do to keep them active year-over-year. Grants will usually change each year based on the FAFSA but scholarships may have a GPA requirement. Find out before you make a decision.
Let’s talk about loans. Everyone knows about loans. Everyone is scared of loans. Educational loans are an investment to the student, but you have to borrow responsibly. If you will have to borrow $50,000 a year for 4 years, consider if that school is really the right fit. If it is, and you expect to be able to repay the loans, then go for it. Take care to always borrow federal student loans first, which can be applied for with the FASFA. Federal student loans don’t have to be repaid while the student is in school and there are quite a few different repayment options that can change your monthly repayment (once the student does graduate) from $250 per month to $150 per month. Estimate your monthly repayment options online.
Let’s talk about Work Study. Work study, or student employment, is an opportunity for students to earn money through their school by working on campus or at an associated off-campus location. Federal Work Study is a program in which the federal government pays students to work for the school. Institutional (or College) Work Study is a program in which the school pays students to work for them. Either way, the student earns a paycheck regularly during the semester to pay for costs associated with going to school. This money won’t apply toward the bill directly, but it will help the student afford to live while at school.
Change of Circumstance Documentation
So, in case you already knew all of that, let’s talk about real life. If something has changed since you filled out the FAFSA, like a wage earner has lost a job, your school can work with you to provide documentation and then you can update your FAFSA to reflect what the expected income looks like. At Centenary University, we call the form that walks you through this process a Change of Circumstances form. You may also see this as a Professional Judgement form.
And there is more – as you know, the FAFSA doesn’t ask you about obligations that you have, just about income that you have. If your family has extraordinary medical expenses, we can help there, too. The same change of circumstances form can be used to walk you through providing documentation that allows us to take into account those extra medical expenses.
Many families assume, or have heard, that financial aid offices don’t take kindly to you if you ask questions or ask for more money. That is an outdated stereotype. If the financial aid process is too much – reach out to your school for help. If you are having a hard time affording the school with the current financial aid – reach out to your school for help.