Paying for College: Your Key to a Slice of Billions in Financial Aid Laurel Barrette March 18, 2014 College & Career, Expert Advice Share On: While paying for college is the responsibility of families, it is a partnership between families, students, the government and colleges to expand educational access to qualified students. Your community and society as a whole benefit from increased levels of education. Many local and national organizations also provide assistance in the form of grants and scholarships. Everybody wins when you further your education. The cost to attend college varies, from affordable community colleges to private schools that offer significant financial aid, which is the general term used to describe any assistance given to students and families to help them pay for college. The federal government is the largest source of financial aid. Aid is awarded primarily on the basis of financial need. Need is calculated using a standard formula as part of the financial aid application process. Here are some encouraging facts: According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 85 percent of all college students receive some form of financial aid, including scholarships, grants, subsidized loans, and work study. There are billions of dollars available from the federal government alone. According to Federal Student Aid, more than $150 billion in federal grants, loans and work-student funds are provided to more than 15 million students each year to pay for college or career school. Think you can’t qualify for financial aid? Check out “Myths About Financial Aid.” Everyone should apply. How do I apply for financial aid? You will need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, also known as the FAFSA. The FAFSA is used to determine your eligibility for federal financial aid. Most colleges and state programs also use this application to give out additional financial aid. Start by requesting your Federal Student Aid PIN. This PIN allows you to complete and sign your FAFSA online. Pay attention to the deadlines. There are federal and state deadlines, and colleges may also have a deadline. Then, gather information and documents used to calculate your EFC. Much of the same information on your taxes is needed for the FAFSA. Once you are ready, you can begin the FAFSA online. The U.S. Department of Education will send you a Student Aid Report (SAR) after your FAFSA application is analyzed. The SAR contains everything provided on the FAFSA. Carefully review your SAR for accuracy and follow directions for correcting errors. Respond promptly to correspondence from the Department of Education and your college financial aid office. Other resources If you aren’t ready but want an estimate of how much aid you qualify for, use the FAFSA Forecaster You can also apply the old-fashioned way, with a paper application. Tips on filling out the FAFSA If you have questions about the application, FAFSA on the Web or federal financial aid for students in general, call the Federal Student Aid Information Center (FSAIC) 800-4-FED-AID (433-3243) / TTY 800-730-8913. You can also contact the financial aid office at the college or career school you plan to attend. The FAFSA webinar from The College Board or PSA videos may also be helpful.