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Understanding Financial Aid As A First-Year In College

Last updated August 12, 2021

Getting accepted into college is one of the greatest accomplishments of your life so far. You did the work to complete your applications, take the SAT or ACT, write essays, and maintain your grades your entire senior year. You deserve a major round of applause. But we know all of that excitement doesn’t erase your concerns about being able to pay for college. Whether you are heading off to a four-year college or sticking closer to home to attend a community college, there are a few things you should do this summer to make sure your financial aid is in order for the fall.

File your FAFSA if you haven’t already

Although there is a big push to get your FAFSA completed before the priority deadline for each state, you still have until June 30 to complete your FAFSA to get money for the fall semester. If you have not filed your FAFSA, we can’t stress to you how important it is that you do this ASAP! The FAFSA helps schools determine how much money you will need to cover the cost of your education. It is used to award you federal grants and loans, as well as tell schools what your family should be reasonably expected to contribute to your education.

Get your tuition bill from your school

Each admitted student will receive a bill from the school that outlines exactly what your tuition will cost for the upcoming school year. This tuition bill will include the cost of tuition as a full-time or part-time student, room and board, student fees, and additional costs required by the school. You want to know exactly what you are responsible for paying as you prepare to head off to school. Ask questions if you’re not sure what something means.


Compare your tuition bill to your financial aid award letter

Now that you know exactly what it costs to attend school in the fall, compare your financial award letter to your tuition bill to see if there are any shortfalls in aid. Unless you received a “full ride” scholarship to your school, there might be a gap in what the school awarded you in financial aid and what you will need to pay to cover your full tuition. If there is a gap, you have a few options. First, contact your financial aid office to speak with someone about what you can do to cover the gaps. Second, look at outside scholarships and grants that have deadlines this summer. There is still time to apply for scholarships to help you cover tuition this fall. Third, consider what you can reasonably cover by working a summer job and using your earnings to pay tuition. If there is still a gap, you might need to sign up for a payment plan to make incremental payments throughout the school year so that your tuition is paid in more manageable payments.

Find out what you have to do to keep your financial aid

Many students spend so much time securing financial aid their freshman year they don’t consider what is required to keep that financial aid for the duration of their education. For starters, you have to complete the FAFSA every single year. You can complete the FAFSA as early as October 1, so we recommend you submit your FAFSA as soon as you can to ensure you get financial aid for the next school year. You also need to find out what academic requirements must be met to keep your aid. Many school and private scholarships require you to maintain a set grade point average in college to keep the scholarship. If your G.P.A. drops below that minimum, you will lose the scholarship and be responsible for paying the difference in your tuition yourself. Other financial aid requires you to be enrolled for a set number of hours. Most often, you are required to be enrolled as a full time student (at least 12 credit hours each semester) to continue receiving financial aid. If for any reason, you have to drop a class and fall below the enrollment requirement, you will have a reduction in your financial aid. Being aware of all the requirements to maintain your financial aid will help you be successful your entire college career.

Learn how to save money

Saving money might seem like a no brainer for paying for college, but most students don’t actually know how to do that! This summer, take some time to learn about money management. Even if your full tuition for freshman year is covered, you will have many expenses as a student. First up will be your books for class. Textbooks can be very expensive and you will likely need new books each semester. Other expenses include school supplies, personal needs, transportation (if you commute to school or travel far away for school), and the social things that round out your college experience. 

We know college finances can be a constant struggle. Hopefully, these tips will help you stay on top of your costs for college. And don’t forget to continue to research and apply for scholarships.

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