As you look towards finally attending college, an important question to answer is how you will afford to pay for it.
There are two main applications that most students who are looking for need based financial aid will fill out:
- Federal Student Aid (FAFSA, Wikipedia) - Free application to determine student financial aid from the government. There are several types of aid that can be offered to students who have completed a FAFSA:
- Pell Grant – A grant of up to $5,815 (as of the 2016-17 Award Year) for students with a low expected family contribution. A 2016 NerdWallet study found that students missed out on $2.7 billion in free federal Pell grants by not completing the FAFSA.
- Stafford Loan – As of July 1, 2015, any Federal Direct subsidized loan will have a fixed interest rate of 4.29% and the interest is paid by the government while the student is enrolled at least half time. The Federal Direct unsubsidized loan also has a fixed interest rate of 4.29% and accumulates onto the outstanding balance.
- Federal Perkins Loan – A loan that is like the Stafford but is lent directly by schools that are Title IV-eligible. Interest rate is fixed at 5%.
- The Federal Work-Study Program – A program where students can get part-time work, up to a certain amount. In most cases, the federal government pays half of a student's wage and the school pays the other half.
- Financial Aid PROFILE (i.e. CSS PROFILE)- Many of the private colleges and universities you apply to will require this application to determine your eligibility for the institution's own grants, loans and scholarships. It's more detailed than FAFSA and also factors in additional factors such as home ownership. It might also require a minimum student contribution and costs a fee to file which may be waived.
Many colleges will also offer merit-based aid to award to those incoming students with demonstrated excellence in academics, sports, certain extracurriculars, etc, so always confirm with the college to make sure you know what types of aid they have available.
There are billions of dollars of scholarships offered every year for incoming college freshman (and even college upperclassmen). They can range from ethnic scholarships (i.e. if you have a particular heritage) to a locality (your community, town, or state) to national merit based scholarships (may require a test, essay, or application).