Although college can be expensive, financial assistance is available and could greatly reduce the cost of pursuing higher education. Did you know that 85% of college students in the United States receive financial aid? As many students flock to their financial aid office every year to be a part of that 85%, some may find themselves not knowing what questions to ask their financial aid office or even how to get started with obtaining financial assistance, which is why we’re letting you know how the financial aid office can help you.
What Is a Financial Aid Office?
A financial aid office is a place at a college or university where students and their parents can get information on how to pay for education. At the office, you can pick up forms to apply for aid, and you can also talk with advisors to learn about the best grants, scholarships, and loan packages for your financial situation. In addition to learning about general financial aid, you also can learn about the school’s unique offerings for its students.
When Should You Go to a Financial Aid Office?
In most cases, you usually don’t go to a school’s financial aid office until you have been accepted into the school. However, some financial aid offices will answer questions from prospective students to help them get an idea of whether or not there are resources to help with the cost of tuition and fees for that school.
When looking at colleges and universities, don’t get scared by the sticker price. Most schools have generous aid packages and resources to help lower costs and make education more affordable, and you can also apply for aid by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
During your first visit, the representatives can give you advice on when you should return to the office. Typically, most students check in with the financial aid office at least once or twice a year to ensure that they are optimizing all of the resources possible to help cover the cost of their education. You can also visit the financial aid office if you have specific questions on certain types of programs.
Alternatively, you can look at the financial aid page on your college or university’s website. These pages usually have links to financial aid options, as well as tools to help you make an appointment with someone in the office.
What Questions Should You Ask at the Financial Aid Office?
To make the most of your experience at the financial aid office, you may want to spend some time preparing a few questions. Going in with a list of questions helps to ensure that you don’t forget to cover any important issues. Depending on your situation, you may want to ask the following:
- What is the cost of attendance at this university?
- How much do students usually pay once they take financial aid into account?
- What type of financial aid is available for students?
- Do you have work-study programs?
- Besides financial aid and work-study, are there other ways to offset the cost of tuition at this school?
- Are there any specific grants or scholarships available for my department or for people studying my major? Note that in some cases, you may want to contact the head of your department in addition to talking with the financial aid office.
- How do I apply for financial aid?
- What are the deadlines for financial aid applications?
- Can you help me fill out financial aid forms?
- Do you have tips to help me obtain financial aid?
What Types of Financial Aid Are Available?
Financial aid can come from federal, state, and local governments, but it often comes directly from the school or from other private businesses or organizations. Here are the most popular types of financial aid and a brief explanation of how they work:
- Grants: Grants do not have to be repaid unless you break the terms of the grant — for example, if you drop out of school and get a refund, you may have to repay certain grants. Some popular federal grants include Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants, and Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grants.
- Scholarships: Offered by nonprofits, schools, and private organizations, scholarships do not generally have to be repaid, and they can be awarded based on merit or financial need.
- Work-Study Programs: In exchange for working at the school, work-study programs pay you a stipend, or they may also offset tuition, fees, housing, or other costs.
- Loans: You can borrow money to attend college through multiple different sources. Typically, you don’t have to start repaying the loan until you graduate or stop attending the college or university, but keep in mind that you will generally have to repay the full amount borrowed plus interest.
- Aid for military families: If you, your parents, or your spouse is an active or retired military member, you may qualify for special student aid programs.
- Aid for international studies: In some cases, you can even access financial aid earmarked for studying abroad. This can apply, both, to short study abroad programs and obtaining a degree at an international university.
To learn more about what types of financial aid are available, check out studentaid.gov for more information.
How Can You Support Your Financial Aid Office?
Once you learn about the financial aid options at your college or university, you can start to apply for loans, grants, scholarships, and work-study opportunities. Keep in mind that your financial aid office likely processes a lot of different applications and aid packages, and to make their job easier, you should stick to deadlines and make sure you fill out applications thoroughly.
To stay on track, consider making a schedule listing all of your financial aid applications. Try to review all applications several weeks before they are due, and make a note to contact the financial aid office with questions early in the process. Then, whenever possible, commit to submitting applications before the deadlines so you don’t overwhelm the office by submitting multiple applications at the very last minute along with many other students in the school.
Regardless of where you go to school, the financial aid office is committed to helping you pay for the cost of education. The people who work in these offices are there for you, and they want to help you afford college and be successful. To learn more about the options at your college or university, visit your financial aid office or check out its website today.