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How Do You Know if You Qualify for Financial Aid?

What is financial aid, and how do you know if you qualify for financial aid? Learn more about the basics so you can get an idea of what to expect.

Paying for college can feel like a daunting task. The cost of college continues to rise, and financial aid is a necessity for many students. But what is financial aid, and how do you know if you qualify for financial aid?

Let’s take a look at the basics of financial aid so you can get an idea of what you might be able to expect.

What is financial aid?

Financial aid represents all the tools and resources available to college students as well as students going into certain trades and technical programs. Federal financial aid centers around the types of help the government can provide to students through their schools. Examples of federal financial aid are:

  • Grants.
  • Federal student loans.
  • Federal work-study.

Additionally, information you provide to the federal government is passed on to the schools you’re interested in attending. That information can be used to determine whether you’re eligible for need-based and/or merit-based scholarships as well as other state and institutional grant programs.

If you’re a parent wondering, “Will my child qualify for financial aid?” it’s important to remember that federal student loans are often part of a financial aid package. Student loans will be included in the information provided in a financial aid letter, along with grants and scholarships.

How do you know if you qualify for financial aid? 

So how do you know if you qualify for financial aid? First of all, there are some basic eligibility requirements for federal financial aid:

  • Be a citizen or eligible noncitizen.
  • Have a valid Social Security number.
  • Be accepted to or enrolled in an eligible program.
  • Maintain satisfactory progress as defined by the program.

In the past, male students had to register for the draft through the Selective Service System, but that’s no longer a requirement. Additionally, a recent change allows those with drug convictions to qualify for federal student aid.

If you meet those basic requirements, chances are you will qualify for federal student loans. You can qualify for federal student loans regardless of your credit situation or income. There are no criteria to meet for federal student loans, so just about anyone who meets basic eligibility requirements can receive federal loans as part of a financial aid package.

For other financial aid, the information used to fill out your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) will determine what you qualify for.

How do I know if I qualify for FAFSA?

The FAFSA is open for the following academic year starting on Oct. 1 of each year. Anyone can fill out the FAFSA, which is designed as a standard way to collect information and pass it on to your chosen schools. States and schools have deadlines that can impact your ability to get aid, so pay attention to when the information must be completed.

When you fill out the FAFSA, you provide information about your family’s financial situation. That includes income information pulled from tax returns as well as family size and how many family members are in college. For dependent students, this information includes parents’ financial information.

After filling out the FAFSA, you’ll receive information on your expected family contribution, which is the amount that your family is expected to be able to pay for your schooling. It’s important to note that schools use this information to put together financial aid letters. That is when people start to wonder if they qualify for certain types of financial aid.

Grants have income requirements. So if you have a low income, you’re more likely to qualify for a Pell Grant from the federal government. Additionally, your FAFSA will be sent to the schools you indicate. If you meet their need-based requirements, you might be offered a scholarship. Those attending college in their home state might also be eligible for grants and scholarships from state programs. Finally, some schools have scholarship programs aimed at students who have financial need.

Filling out your FAFSA helps you access all of these programs, and you’ll be provided an award letter that details which types of federal student aid you’re eligible for, including how much is offered in federal student loans.

What if there’s still a college funding gap?

After receiving your financial aid package, you might still need help paying for college. Perhaps you don’t qualify for grants and scholarships. In some cases, even after accounting for federal student loans, there’s a need for additional funding. 

In such cases, you might need to follow some additional strategies to get the money needed to pay for school:

  • Federal work-study: Work-study is a sometimes overlooked federal financial aid option. With work-study, you get a job with a participating employer to work a set number of hours each week and receive pay. It can be a way to help cover various costs of attendance.
  • Regular job: Some students choose to work through school in order to pay some of their costs.
  • Savings: For those with the ability to save ahead of time, savings can be a way to help pay for college. Savings can include a 529 plan or a Coverdell account. Be aware, however, of how different savings vehicles can affect your ability to get federal financial aid.
  • Private student loans: In some cases, private student loans can be a way to bridge the funding gap. Juno can help you get low-cost loans for school so you can finish your program.

Bottom line

How do you know if you qualify for financial aid? In the end, just about every citizen will qualify for financial aid. However, the type of financial aid differs based on the information you provide while filling out your FAFSA. Anyone who attends school in the United States should fill out a FAFSA, which can provide you with information about how much you and your family might be expected to contribute to your college education. 

Additionally, even if you don’t think you qualify, you’re almost certainly eligible for federal student loans. Fill out the FAFSA, have it sent to the schools you’re interested in and then see what type of financial aid package you get. You might be pleasantly surprised at what’s available to you.

Miranda Marquit

Written By

Miranda Marquit

Miranda has 10+ years of experience covering financial markets for various online and offline publications, including contributions to Marketwatch, NPR, Forbes, FOX Business, Yahoo Finance, and The Hill. She is the co-host of the Money Tree Investing podcast and she has a Master of Arts in Journalism from Syracuse University


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