If you need money for college, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid should be your first stop. The FAFSA determines how much you can get from grants, work study and federal student loans. Some schools use the FAFSA to determine other sources of financial aid, such as state grants and school scholarships.
The federal government doesn't give financial aid to just anyone. You need to have at least a high school diploma before you can get any funding. You can apply every year as long as you're enrolled for at least six credits per semester and you're making progress toward a degree. You can get cut off if you have a student loan too and don't make the payments.
If you're entering an undergraduate program and don't yet have a college degree, the Pell grant is one of the best aid options. It's not a loan, so you won't have to repay it after you finish school. The amount depends on your financial need and how much it costs to go to your school. The most you can get per year, at least through the 2012-13 school year, is $5,550. You don't have an unlimited supply of Pell grants, either. As of 2012, you can only get the grant for up to 12 semesters.
The FAFSA also determines if you're eligible for the Perkins or Stafford loans, both federal programs. You can borrow up to $5,500 in Perkins loans each year if you're an undergraduate, or $8,000 a year if you're in graduate school. The Stafford loan might be subsidized, so the government pays your interest while you're in school. You can also get an unsubsidized Stafford if you need more funding and have maxed out the subsidized loan. You can borrow more and more under the Stafford program each year. As of 2012-13, the cap was $5,500 for the first year, and $20,500 for graduate students.
The FAFSA could give you a chance to supplement a grant or loan with a work study offer. The earlier you submit your FAFSA, the better work study offer you'll get. The offer will include a predetermined amount of cash you can get from any of these jobs. For example, if the cap is $1,000 per semester, and the job pays $8 per hour, you can't work more than 125 hours per semester. You don't have to accept a work-study award, but the FAFSA won't channel that money into a grant or loan. You'll just leave that cash on the table.
- Federal Student Aid: Complete the FAFSA
- Federal Student Aid: Pell Grants
- Portland State University: New Federal Rules Affecting Pell Grant and Stafford Loan Eligibility
- Federal Student Aid: Loans
- Federal Student Aid: Work Study
- Federal Student Aid: Basic Eligibility
- Midwestern University: Financial Aid - Eligibility Requirements