Monday, July 21, 2008

Money Monday

Here it is, your riveting and vastly fascinating second installment on everything you ever wanted to know about college financial aid, but didn't have a clue how to ask.

Today's installment is inspired by a conversation I had with a friend who is trying to help a neice who lives in Canada find aid options here in the states. How does one qualify for aid, you might ask.

Most financial aid at colleges in the states falls into several categories. There are scholarships, which means you don't have to pay them back, but you have to do something to qualify, usually of an academic nature but could be based on a talent like kicking or hitting various kinds of balls really well, or being able to shoot a ball through a hoop, or even playing a musical instrument really well. These are usually offered by the college itself, but might come from an organization like the Rotary Club or a parents' employer. You usually have to continue to qualify for these by meeting some guideline, like getting a certain GPA.

There are grants, which are also "free" meaning you don't have to pay them back, but they are usually based either on financial need or some other criteria the college sets. These can come from the college or sometimes from the state the student is a resident of. The federal government also offers need based grants, like the Pell Grant. Usually you have to apply each year for these, and they may or may not change if your need changes. There may be an academic qualification too each year, it depends on the guidelines set by the agency awarding it.

Then there is money that you have to repay, i.e. loans. There are some that the student can get without any cosigner, but those are usually limited to a certain amount based on what class level the student has achieved, freshman, sophomore, etc. There are private student loans, but those need a cosigner in most cases, because they are credit based and most students don't have the income and credit history to get approved by themselves. There are loans that can be borrowed by the parent, and these are also credit based, so if the parent has lousy credit, it can mean they won't be approved.

In almost all of these cases, most aid requires that the student be either a US Citizen or an eligible non-citizen (has a green card) in order to qualify. A college might have money they award to foreign students, but it won't usually be a full scholarship, although it can be. It is all up to the college at that point. Many loans are available to non US Citizens, but they will require a cosigner who is a US Citizen or eligible non citizen.

To apply for aid, most colleges will require a student to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and may have their own institutional aid application as well, or use the College Board CSS Profile form. This will allow the college to determine eligibility for all possible aid from all possible resources. Sometimes, if all the student wants to receive is an academic scholarship, all they need to do is apply for admission and they may receive an academic award. But the rest of the aid usually requires the other applications to be filed.

I think that is enough information on how to apply for aid, next time we will discuss what that aid award means, and if you need more, how to ask, nicely.

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