FAFSA and student aid: How can you make your dream more affordable?

Hans Janovy Meyer, page editor

Among the many options for life after high school (military service, trade school, going straight into the workforce, etc.), one has been steadily increasing in price for years: a college education. The College Board reported in their annual report Trends in College Pricing 2018 that the median cost of tuition and fees to attend full time for one year sits at $10,230 for a public four year university with in state tuition, $26,290 for the same schools with out of state tuition, and $35,830 to attend a private non-profit university. With such high costs associated with attending college, paying out of pocket for your education is only a reality for a select few, but for the majority, financial aid, scholarships, and other grants are likely to play a big role in paying for higher education.

The first step for most students looking for any sort of student aid is to fill out their FAFSA form. FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid and is the device used to determine how much financial aid a student is eligible for based on their family’s financial situation. Both current and prospective college students will submit their FAFSA forms to the US Department of Education. Shortly after submitting their forms, students will receive a Student Aid Report which summarizes the information they submitted. From this point on, students are at the discretion of the colleges and universities they are applying to, which ultimately determine the financial aid to award to each student. Finally, when the school has made their decision for how much financial aid to award, you will receive an award letter. Inside that award letter will be all of the information you need about your financial aid package.

Some students may elect to pursue different scholarships that are not included in their aid package. While some colleges and universities may automatically award scholarships to students inside of their aid package, there are many other scholarships available. These may be through the school that you are applying to but require a separate application, or they may be awarded by other organizations. Different scholarships may be awarded for many different reasons. There are academic scholarships, scholarships based on sports, activities, community service, or even scholarships based on your religion or ethnic background are all available. Because each scholarship opportunity is unique, reference Naviance to find scholarships and specific information about the process for each.

Don’t be dismayed if you dream of attending a small private liberal arts school but are fearing the enormous sticker price. While there are schools that are by no means affordable, there is infrastructure in place to help every student follow their post-secondary education dreams wherever their dreams can take them.