How to Apply for Financial Aid

Going to public college in the U.S. costs students an average of $24,610 per year while private universities cost an average of $49,320 per year, according to College Data. Do you have that kind of money? I didn't either, and guess what? I managed to graduate from college with about $73,000 worth of student loan debt.

This article will help you utilize every single piece of available financial aid from your state, government, colleges, and from private organizations to attend and graduate with the least amount of debt possible. This guide offers tips and resources for:

  • Students with preexisting disabilities,
  • Veterans, soldiers, or military family members looking to become a student,
  • Minority and women students,
  • Parents preparing for their child's college expenses,
  • And anyone who wants to save money and reduce debt on college costs.

Ultimately, I want you to learn from my mistakes and get a quality education for the absolute cheapest available price. If you thought you would never be able to attend college because of the cost, think again.

How to Apply for Financial Aid

Who Is Eligible For Financial Aid?

You may be surprised to learn that about two-thirds of full-time college students qualified for and utilized financial aid during the 2014-2015 school year, according to The College Board. If anything, this proves that financial aid, and the decisions that follow it, is an incredibly important for students both young and old to understand. This guide aims to explain the processes to apply for financial aid and provide money-management strategies for paying off the debt that may follow.

For now, let's go through what it takes to apply for federal student aid.

General Qualifications For Financial Aid

In order to be eligible for financial aid, there are some general requirements for all students, according to StudentAid.edu.gov.

  • You must be attending or planning to attend either a vocational school, a community college, a four-year college or university, or a graduate school.
  • Your school must also be accredited by the U.S. Department of Education.
  • You should have a high school diploma or GED certificate
  • You should also have a valid social security number.
  • You must be either a U.S. citizen, a U.S. national, have a green card, have an arrival-departure record, have a battered immigrant status, or have a T Visa to be eligible. If your Parents have a T-1 Visa, you could also be eligible.

Apply For FAFSA

Free Application For Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is where you will outline your financial history, your family's finances, and fill in personal information to determine your financial need and just how much financial aid you are eligible for.

If you meet the above requirements, you're going to need to complete the FAFSA. The application becomes available as early as October the year before your next school year, so you don't have to wait to apply.

First, go to fsaid.edu.gov to create your FAFSA pin code, which you'll need to sign in. You'll have to fill out the application every year in order to continue receiving financial aid. Here is what you'll need to apply, according to NASFAA.

What Kind Of Financial Aid Is Out There?

financial aid calculator

Financial aid is given out in the form of grants, scholarships, students loans, and work-study programs. Some of these require you to pay them back when you finish school while some you won't have to worry about. Let me explain.

1. Grants - Grants do not have to be paid back unless you accept them and then drop out of school early. Federal grants are free money from the federal government based on the information you provide on the FAFSA. They are awarded based on financial need. Some include:

There is also such a thing as non-federal grants and tuition assistance given out by state governments, your college or university, or nonprofit organizations. Check NASFAA to click on your state and see what it has to offer.

2. Scholarships - College scholarships are similar to grants in that they don't have to be paid back under most circumstances. Similar to grants, however, they can be taken away if the student fails to meet its requirements for the school year. For example, if you fail to maintain a minimum GPA required by a scholarship, it could be revoked.

One difference between scholarships and grants is that scholarships can be awarded based on financial need and merit instead of just financial need. Additionally, you'll have to search for and apply to scholarships individually instead of just applying to FAFSA for grants. You can check your school's student aid office and this ultimate college scholarships guide for help with applications.

3. Student Loans - A student loan is borrowed money from the federal government or the best bank and private student loan companies that you'll need to pay back after college. Some popular student loans include:

  • Stafford Loans - These are loans paid out by the federal government. The government also pays your interest until you're out of school so you don't accrue during school.
  • Direct Plus Loans - These are loans for parents of dependent undergraduate students and for graduate students. Interest accrues during school.
  • Perkins Loans - These are low-interest federal student loans for undergraduate and graduate students in financial need.
  • Private Loans - The best student loan companies usually have higher interest rates than federal loans. The loan is paid for by a private company and interest will accrue during school on unsubsidized loans.

You can't get away from paying back loans unless you qualify for student loan forgiveness, according to studentaid.gov. As a result, you should make sure you utilize all of the free grants and scholarships available to you to avoid borrowing students loans at all costs.

4. Work-Study Programs - A work study program is when you work for your school to pay for school. For example, you could work for your school's library during your degree program. Instead of getting a paycheck, your paycheck would go straight toward your payment for school. This way, you don't have to take out as much money in loans. There are also fellowships and internships you can get to help pay for school, according to Scholarships.com.

As you can see, there are a lot of resources out there to ensure you are able to attend college. There are also financial aid opportunities out there for specific groups of people in need. In the rest of this article, I want to outline such opportunities for minorities and women, students with disabilities, veterans, soldiers, and parents of college students.

Financial Aid For Students With Disabilities

While FAFSA can help you out immensely in the financial department, there are plenty of other scholarships and resources out there specifically for disabled students in financial need. I've listed some below.

Scholarships And Grants For Students With Disabilities

National Federation For The Blind

This National Federation For The Blind sponsors 30 scholarships and grants every year. If you are blind in both eyes, live in the United States, Puerto Rico, or the District of Columbia and participate in all NFB scholarship activities, you could be eligible for one or more of these scholarships. Check the website for details on how to apply.

Hard of Hearing or Deaf Scholarship

Sertoma gives away a Hard of Hearing or Deaf Scholarship worth $1,000 every year. To qualify, you must have a minimum of 42dB bilateral hearing loss or more in both ears. You must also be a U.S. citizen pursuing any full-time college degree with a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.2. The deadline is May 1, 2017.

Avonte Oquendo Memorial Scholarship

This scholarship gives $1,000 to any student who has been diagnosed with autism or who has a close family member with autism. To apply, you must be enrolled in or accepted to a college or university and submit your transcripts. You will also have to turn in an essay with a 500-word minimum and 1,000-word maximum on one of the essay topics listed on the website.

Google Lime Scholarship For Students With Disabilities

Scholarships from this program will be awarded based on the student's ability to demonstrate a solid academic background and passion for computer science. If you win, you can receive up to $10,000 and an invitation to the Google Scholars Retreat at Googleplex. Those who apply will also be considered for software engineering internships with Google. Check the website to see if you qualify.

Jackie Spellman Scholarship Foundation

The Jackie Spellman Scholarship Foundation offers $1,000-$5,000 to anyone who has been impacted in some way by leukemia or lymphoma. If you're a high school senior, a community college student, an undergraduate student, or a graduate student, you can apply for this scholarship. If you're majoring in health or nursing, you may be considered first. See the application for more details.

More Resources For Students With Disabilities

Please take a look at these sites for more scholarships and resources to help students with disabilities attend college without ending up is massive debt.

Financial Aid For Veterans, Soldiers And Their Families

there are special financial aid opportunities for veterans

There are educational assistance programs for every section of the army. If you are a veteran or soldier, you may be eligible to get 100 percent of your college tuition paid for. Additionally, veterans can apply for $1,500 worth of school funding per month on top of career development training. Make sure to take advantage of every tuition tool available so you don't have to pay a dime.

What Is the Military GI Bill For Veterans?

The GI Bill is not a federal grant, but more of a payment for good service in the military that is paid directly to the student for tuition assistance. This bill was created in 1944 in response to World War 1 after veterans came home and were left with pretty much nothing. It was originally made to help veterans get mortgages, business loans, and unemployment benefits more easily and was first named "The Serviceman's Readjustment of 1944," according to the Military.com.

Since then, it has been remade twice and renamed the Montgomery GI Bill and the Post 9/11 GI Bill. These days, military men and women who want to become students can choose between either the Montgomery GI Bill or the Post 9/11 GI Bill to cover college tuition. The catch is that once you choose, your decision is permanent.

Make sure you consult with a financial aid advisor to see which one is best for you before you decide. You can go to veterans.va.gov for more information or talk to the Veterans Assistant at the college you plan to attend. The V.A. should be available in the financial aid department to help you determine which GI Bill is appropriate and how to apply.

Assistance For Current And Prospective Soldiers

There are various programs available for current and potential soldiers who want to get an education. Read on for details on specific programs and check OnlineSchools.org for more.

Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP)

This program gives tuition assistance to those who served 90 consecutive days after 9/11/2001. Depending on exactly how many days of consecutive service you've performed, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs will give you money to pay a percentage of your tuition costs. You can receive financial aid towards:

  • cooperative training programs
  • a bachelor's or master's degree from an accredited institution (online or hybrid programs are all accepted)
  • vocational school certificates or diplomas
  • correspondence courses
  • flight training
  • on-the-job training or apprenticeships

Once you know what degree you're pursuing and where you're pursuing it, you'll need to make sure it is on the V.A.'s list. If so, fill out and submit the application before you start school and expect reimbursement after completion of your courses.

Reserve Offices Training Course (ROTC)

ROTC stands for Reserve Officer Training Course. Benefits for this program are for high school students, college, students, current soldiers, and graduate students with two years of classes are eligible to apply. Benefits for Marines and Navy ROTC are saved for high school graduates planning to begin a four-year degree program.

There is also an Airforce ROTC program for sophomores and freshmen in high school, undergraduate students who and seniors who plan to serve with the Airforce for four years after they graduate, and for Airforce servicemen who are currently working.

Armed Forces Tuition Assistance Program

In order to be eligible for the Armed Tuition assistance Program as a current or prospective soldier, Onlineschools.org says you should be one of the following:

  • Active duty Marines
  • Active duty and reserves in the Air Force
  • Active duty service members, selective reservists, and civilian employees for the Coast Guard
  • Active duty and naval reserves in AD status for the Navy
  • Active duty, ARNG on active duty, and reserves in the Army

If you are one of the above, you can receive coverage for 100 percent of your tuition with this program. Here is everything you'll be able to pay for:

  • U.S. Department of Education accredited undergraduate or graduate programs and courses
  • Enrollment fees
  • Internet and technology costs for distance learning
  • Equipment expenses for lab course, etc.
  • Other fees including supplies, graduation fees, and campus fees

You must first apply and be accepted to college to apply for this program. Then, you should talk to you military education officer to enroll in classes before you turn in your tuition assistance request containing all classes and fees included in your schooling. Each separate branch of the military has their own application.

Student Loan Repayment Program

If you have declined the GI bill with the form DD Form 2366, have a high school diploma, a military specialty, and have taken out a loan under the Higher Education Act of 1965, you could be eligible for this student loan repayment program.

You'll need to see your education advisor to find out if you qualify and to start the application process. If you do, the Army and Navy will give you up to $65,000 in student loan payment and the Airforce will give you up to $10,000.

Advanced Civil Schooling (ACS)

Army officers on active duty who are pursuing a master's degree could be eligible for this program. If you maintained a GPA of at least 2.5 during your undergraduate studies and have G.R.E. test scores of at least 500, you should apply. Check out the best GRE prep courses if you need help preparing.

If you plan to go into management, you must have received at least a 500 on your GMAT as well to qualify. The program will pay for a P.h.D. Degree Program or master's degree from an accredited college or university. The program will pay for a P.h.D. Degree Program or master's degree for full-time students from an accredited college or university. You should be pursuing an officer's position that requires at least a master's degree. Apply here.

Scholarships And Grants For Veterans, Soldiers, And Their Families

Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant for Families of Deceased Veterans

There are very specific requirements for this grant provided by the federal government. It is only offered to those whose family member(s) died fighting in Afghanistan or Iraq after 9/11. You may be eligible if:

  • You aren't eligible for a Pell Grant because of expected family contributions but you meet all other requirements.
  • Your parent or guardian was a member of the armed forces and died of war injuries after serving in Afghanistan or Iraq after 9/11.
  • you were 24-years-old or enrolled part-time or full-time in college at the time of your parent's death.

AMVETS National Scholarship Program

This is a scholarship for veterans pursuing a full-time degree in an undergraduate program, a graduate program, or an accredited certification or degree from a technical school. If you are a veteran who has used all financial aid available or has no means to further your education, this scholarship is for you. You could be awarded a recurring $1,000 every year of your four-year degree if you qualify and maintain the right GPA.

More Resources For Soldiers And Veterans

Look through these websites for more scholarships and resources for veterans and soldiers. Don't forget to talk to your college or university's financial aid counselor to see if they offer anything else for veterans and soldiers.

Financial Aid For Minority Students And Women

there are special financial opportunities for minorities

There are numerous financial aid opportunities available specifically to minority students and women. Here is a list of opportunities for you to examine. Also, look through the minority and women sections in 100 college scholarships and the best scholarship websites for more options.

Scholarships and Grants For Minority Students and Women

Gates Millenium Scholars Program

Minority students who maintained a 3.3 GPA or higher in high school and are planning to enroll in an accredited college or university can apply for this scholars program. You are eligible if you are African American, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian American/Pacific Islander, or Hispanic American.

This scholars program is specifically for minority students who demonstrate unmet financial need and self-help aid, according to Online Schools. The program gives out an average of about $12,227 to each winning student every school year. If you want to apply, you have to submit an application form, a nominator form, and a recommender form. Check the site for more details.

Blacks At Microsoft Scholarship

The Blacks At Microsoft Scholarship gives out $5,000 to black high school seniors who are pursuing a degree in engineering, computer science, computer information, or some business programs in college in the fall. This is a renewable scholarship, so you can renew it each year if you keep your grades up. You'll need to maintain a 3.3 GPA to continuously renew. You must also be able to show leadership and passion in the technology field.

To apply for this scholarship, you'll need two letters of recommendation, a resume, a picture of yourself, and your transcripts. You'll also need to write one 500-word essay on what you'll do in the technology industry in the future and one 250-word essay demonstrating your financial need.

Dr. Nancy Foster Scholarship Fund

Minorities and women who would like to pursue an advanced degree in oceanography, marine biology, maritime archaeology, or another science, engineering, social science and resource management discipline involving ocean and coastal areas are welcome to apply for this scholarship. You must be able to demonstrate need and interest in these fields. They give out up to $42,000 every year plus $10,000 for a 4-6 week program collaboration at a NOAA facility.

George Washington Carver Scholarship Fund

This scholarship was created for black students attending a historically black university. Check the site to make sure you qualify; there are certain majors that are not eligible. To be eligible, you should be a leader with the ability to explain why you need the scholarship and what you plan to do with it. You can win up to $10,000.

AAU Community Action Grants

The American Association of University Women gives out grants to women who want to research nondegree projects and innovative programs to promote equity and education for women. They give out one-year grants of $2,000-$7,000 and two-year grants of $5,000-$10,000. Check the site for details and how to apply.

More Resources For Minorities And Women

Financial Aid Resources For Parents

It's scary when your kids go to college. If you've never been through the process or haven't been through it in a long time, you may not have a clue where to begin. I'm going to walk you through how to estimate the cost of your child's college career and what resources are available to you to help your child afford it.

How Much Will College Cost?

college costs can be tough

You can estimate how much your kid will spend on college with the U.S. Department of Education's helpful cost calculator. First, enter the name of the college to find its net price calculator. Once you type in and select your school, the site will bring you directly to the college's website where they keep a net price calculator. To calculate the price, you'll likely need the following information:

  • Student and Parent Federal Income Tax Returns
  • Earnings statements (W2 forms, recent paycheck stubs)
  • Bank statements
  • Investment account statements (stocks, bonds, contributions to a 401(k) or tax-deferred retirement plans)
  • Current GPA
  • Standardized test scores if available (SAT/ACT)

Once you've calculated costs, you'll need to decide how you're going to pay. This will require you to sort out your personal finances. Make sure to apply your child for FAFSA as soon as possible so they receive all of the federal grants and loans they're eligible for. Also look into scholarships and work-study programs for your child before you think about helping them take out loans.

Savings Options

different strategies to save money

If you plan to save money or invest in your child's future college education, there are plenty of ways to do it. Here are a couple of savings options for you to think about.

  • Savings accounts and money market funds

If you open a savings account for your child, you can add money to it that accrues interest over time. Try reading through the best online savings accounts to determine which accounts are reliable and which one may be appropriate for you. You can also invest in a low-risk money market fund to earn extra money for you child's education. Also, check out the best online investment sites.

  • Savings for elementary, middle school and high school students

If you start early, you can save money specifically for your student's college tuition and other fees with a tax-deductible 529 savings plan. You can also buy a savings bond for you child to cash for them once they get to college. They have to be 24 to cash it in, so put it in your own name.

  • IRA deductions (penalty-free!)

If you currently have an IRA, you can actually take money from it to use for your child's education expenses with no penalty. Check the IRS website for more information.

  • College savings plans

College savings plans are savings that come from investments made by you. The catch is that it is a bit risky. Check out the website to see how it works.

  • Prepaid tuition plans

In this case, you can pay for a year of college tuition for your college so that the price doesn't go up by the time they actually go to school. This is great for those who have money now and aren't sure if they will have it later; it is also great if you just have the money and know the prices will go up. You must stay in the state where you opened the account to have access to the plan but your child doesn't have to go to school in your state. Read more here.

  • Coverdell Education Savings Account

This savings account isn't tax deductible like the 529 account but it will be tax-free until you child starts using it on eligible college expenses and fees. Check here for details.

Subsidized vs. Unsubsidized Student Loans

subsidized vs unsubsidized loans

If you don't have the money to pay for your child's college career, they may have to take out student loans. If so, you will need to know the difference between subsidized and unsubsidized loans to save money on interest.

Subsidized loans are federal loans that are given based on demonstrated financial need. With a subsidized loan, interest is paid by the federal government while you're in school, for 6-months after, and during deferment periods. In contrast, unsubsidized loans accrue interest while you're in school unless you pay it off yourself.

Unsubsidized loans could put you in more debt than you bargained for. The only good thing about them is that you don't have to have financial need to get one. Always opt for a subsidized loan if you can to avoid paying interest while you're in school.

More Resources For Parents

Financial Aid Recap

Overall, financial aid is a time-consuming process, but it is entirely worth the effort. If you take your time and consider every avenue to financial aid, you will end up leaving college debt-free, unlike I did! Make sure to take advantage of student discounts to save more money during school. If there is any information you want to know that I missed in this article, please drop me a comment below and I will do my best to answer your questions.

If this article helped you in any way shape of form, please share it with your friends in family, so it can help them as well. If you want to hear more from us on financial aid, saving money and making money fast, subscribe to the MoneySavingPro Blog and follow us on Facebook and Pinterest.

Advertiser Disclosure

In order for MoneySavingPro to remain a consumer free service, many of the companies covered in our industry reviews compensate MoneySavingPro for new sign ups.

However, the results of our comparison tools, the rankings of the providers and the information presented is not affected by compensation. Indeed, many of these companies approach us for an advertising partnership after we have already written a published their reviews.

While we try to research and review as many providers as possible in the 100+ industries we cover, we have not reviewed every company available.

Our rating system is independent of compensation and reflects our true understanding of the industry and the company based on a variety of factors. The companies that receive the highest rating will always be the providers that we believe offer the best value to the consumer.