Start early and save.
The cost of a four-year degree continues to escalate. Understanding the various sources of aid, as well as the timelines for applying, can make all the difference in alleviating some of the cost. Do your homework as “the early bird truly does get the worm.”
There are three primary sources of financial aid—federal, state, and institutional. Some aid, such as loans, must be paid back with interest. Other forms of aid, such as scholarships and grants, don’t require repayment.
The most commonly required form to apply for financial aid, including student loans and work study, is the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Some institutions also require the CSS Profile (administered by The College Board). Most colleges and universities require a FAFSA on file to be considered for all forms of institutional aid. It’s best to complete the FAFSA after finishing your taxes but before March 1. Remember to check the deadlines posted on the college or university’s website to which you’re applying. Before you can begin completing the FAFSA for the first time, you must set up an account and secure a PIN.
Some states provide financial incentives for students to stay in-state for college. Ohio currently doesn’t offer such a program. If you’re considering an out-of-state college or university, it’s prudent to know if that state offers such incentives. This can be a point of negotiation with college admissions and financial aid offices when making your final decision.
The amount and type of institutional aid offered by colleges and universities vary significantly. Some offer merit-based, others offer need-based, and several offer both. The process, however, can be very competitive. Spend time on the university’s website, call the financial aid office, and seek insights from other students who currently attend. The more informed you are about the process and deadlines, the better chance you’ll have to receive institutional aid. Colleges are required to offer a net cost calculator on their website. This tool can be helpful to glean an idea of the amount of aid for which you may qualify.