With higher living costs and fewer unskilled jobs available for Americans, it makes good sense to go to college. In fact, the National Center for Education Statistics says enrollment in U.S. colleges and universities increased 37 percent between 2000 and 2010.
But the cost of a quality higher education can seem daunting. And the financial aid process can be intimidating, especially for people who have never been through it. As a result, many parents leave the college planning to overworked school counselors, which generally results in less money for college-bound students.
It really isn’t as difficult as it seems to get money for school, though. There are great options for financial aid out there. With a little help finding and navigating those options, you can afford college or trade school for you or your children.
I’ll get to the nuts-and-bolts of getting those resources below. First, you might want to take in this video, which helps explain why listed tuition fees should be taken with a grain of salt.
Free application for student aid
The government makes federal student aid available in the form of grants that don’t need to be paid back, student loans that must be paid back after graduation, and work study programs that provide job opportunities to help students earn extra money. Most colleges and universities participate in the Federal Student Aid program.
Your first step in obtaining financial aid is to complete the FAFSA, which stands for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This application can be completed completely online at this website.
Before you can complete this application, though, you will need to get together these things:
- A personal identification number from this site.
- Your Social Security number.
- Tax returns. If these are not yet completed, you can use your W-2 forms to show your income from previous years. Self-employed people can make an estimate.
- A good idea of the universities that you want to send the information to.
Parents of any income level can fill out the FAFSA, so don’t think that you must be low income to qualify for aid. In some cases, such as if you are here working with a green card or have battered spouse status, it is possible to get financial aid without being a U.S. citizen. Check out the qualifications here, if you are unsure about your eligibility.
There are a few things you should know about filling out your FAFSA. The colleges take your FAFSA information and grant you financial aid on a first come, first served basis. This means that the sooner you can get your FAFSA completed and turned in to the schools, the better. (This government site explains how schools determine how much aid you need.)