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Does your child need financial assistance to attend college? You are not alone; most families do. While the family is primarily responsible for paying the costs associated with educating its family members, the university, the state and federal governments, and private aid sources are there to supplement the family's efforts.
The vast majority of financial aid comes to students through two processes: scholarships given through the schools themselves, and federal and private sources of aid that are the result of filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Scholarships are traditionally based on academic achievement or some other form of exceptional performance based talent.
Many scholarships do not require a separate application. In many instances your student's application for admission to college is his or her application for many scholarship offerings.
By filing the FAFSA, you also will open the opportunities available under the federal student aid programs as well as some private forms of aid. Applying for private scholarships is a noble effort, but only a little more than one percent of all available aid is given through those sources. Concentrate first on applying to the college and filing the FAFSA. Once you have done that, then pursue other avenues for assistance.
FAFSA is the application form the federal government uses to determine your student's eligibility for aid. Be aware that the FAFSA must be filed annually for reconsideration for aid each year.
Go online to www.pin.ed.gov and www.fafsa.ed.gov. The first web address is where both the student and the parent will apply for a Personal Identification Number (PIN). The PIN will be used as your electronic signature for the FAFSA, which you can complete at the second web address listed above. While you must file the FAFSA annually for consideration for financial aid each year, the PIN continues to remain valid each year.
Complete the FAFSA each year as soon as possible after January 1 for the following academic year (for example, January 1, 2012, for the fall 2012 and spring 2013 semesters, etc.) As funds are limited, early submission maximizes your chance for receiving aid.
If you have questions about any of the FAFSA questions, you may contact the financial aid office at UW at firstname.lastname@example.org, a local college's financial aid office, or the U.S. Department of Education at 1 (800) 433-3243.
By filling out the FAFSA, a governmental formula will determine your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The EFC is the amount of money your family can reasonably be expected to contribute toward your student's college costs each year. The difference between your family's EFC and the costs associated with attending a particular college is the student's "need," or eligibility for financial assistance at that school. Each college to which the student applies will attempt to meet his or her need through a variety of sources of aid. At the University of Wyoming this information will be available at the student's WyoWeb account. Important — be sure to formally accept the offer to let the school know the student wishes to receive all or part of the offer. If you are not timely in your acceptance, you may lose the aid offered.
Don't panic if your application for aid has been selected for verification. Approximately one-third of all applications are selected, most at random. You will be asked by the school to provide copies of your most recent income tax forms and to complete a verification form. Do not delay in responding to the school's request for this documentation.
All assistance falls into three categories:gift aid (scholarships and grants that are not repayable), employment, and loans. Gift aid is certainly the first choice, but resources are limited. While a student may work part-time while attending college, the income earned will need to be supplemented to pay the actual costs of attendance. Loans are the largest form of assistance available and, while not as attractive as gift aid, are a tool for students to get the degree and job they want. Be respectful of the educational debt you and your child may face, but do not be afraid of it either. Good Luck!