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FAFSA Pell Grant (February 2024)

© International Foundation for World Freedom

Dr. Jingyu Fan, Ph.D. Economics and B.A. Mathematics

  1. What is the Federal Student Aid?

If you want to go to college or graduate school, but cannot afford the tuitions and associated living expenses, the Federal Student Aid provided by the US Department of Education is a great source of funding.

This article will walk you through some basics about the Federal Student Aid. We will cover 1. eligibility (who can apply), 2. different aid categories, 3. how-to-apply (where to apply, what materials/information are needed), and 4. what-to-expect after the application.

2. Eligibility

The coverage of the Federal Student Aid is fairly broad. It is provided to both undergraduate and graduate students at eligible colleges and professional schools, and students at eligible career schools. Both current and incoming students can apply.

However, there are some citizenship restrictions: the applicant needs to be a US citizen, a US national, or an eligible noncitizen (such as permanent resident).

Click here for the official eligibility requirements. This link provides more detailed information, especially for students with special needs or immigration status.

3. Types of Aids

The federal government provides three types of aids: grants, loans, and work-study jobs.

Grants are money that the federal government gives to you. You do not need to pay it back. However, there are certain situations where you need to repay the grant, such as when you withdraw early from school. Click here for details on grants repayment. The federal government offers four major grant programs. Click here for their eligibility details and annual amounts.

Loans are money that the federal government lends to you. You must pay it back with interest in the future. There are several types of federal loans, and depending on the types, they can be offered to either students or parents of dependent undergrads. Federal loans offer many benefits that private loans do not have, such as lower, fixed interest rates and deferred payment (you only need to repay the loans after graduation). As repaying federal loans constitutes a legal responsibility, before you can receive the loan money, you must complete a course (for first-time student borrowers) and sign on the relevant legal document.

Work-study jobs are paid part-time work you do while you are in school. The job content is usually related to your field of study. Your employer can either be your school or some outside entity such as a private nonprofit organization. You can earn at least the minimum wage, but keep in mind that there are caps on both your salary (it cannot exceed your financial needs) and your work hours (your work cannot interfere with your study).

4. How to Apply:

Despite the variety of the financial aids the federal government offers, to apply for any of them, you just need to submit one single form – FAFSA! It takes roughly 10 - 30 minutes to fill out.

As the federal student aid is offered on a yearly basis, to continue receiving it, you would need to renew and resubmit FAFSA every year. For example, if you submit FAFSA now, you are applying for financial aids only for the 2023-2024 academic year.

Keep in mind that there are three deadlines for FAFSA: the federal deadline, your home state’s deadline, and the school deadline. For your application to be considered by your school (or a school you are applying to), you must submit FAFSA before all the three deadlines. The federal and state deadlines are posted here. To find the deadline for a specific school, you can either visit the school website or contact its financial aid office.

Below is a list of the information you need to have at hand before you start filling out FAFSA:

  • Your social security number (SSN) – You will need it to create an applicant’s account. If you do not have an SSN, please apply for one first.

  • Your alien registration number (if you are an eligible noncitizen).

  • Your driver’s license number (if you have a driver’s license).

  • If you are a prospective student applying to schools for the next academic year, you will be asked to select up to ten schools you plan to apply to. Each of them will receive your FAFSA application and make independent decision on your financial aid offer (if you get admitted).

  • If you are a dependent student, you will need to fill in your parents’ demographics information (SSNs, marriage month/year, etc.) and their tax return/financial information from the previous year (such as Form 1040).

  • Your (or, if you are married, your household’s) tax return/financial information from the previous year.

One nice thing about FAFSA is that it allows you to directly retrieve tax return information from the IRS’s official website, which you can use to fill in both your and your parents’ tax return information.

5. What to Expect/do after filing out the form

  • What do you receive? From your current school or each school that you are accepted into, you receive a financial aid package combining various types of aids from different sources (federal, state, school, private).

  • How is your aid determined?

  • By the school’s financial aid office

  • Aid amount = COA – EFC

  • COA: tuition, living expenses, study materials, etc.

  • EFC: family income, size, # of school attendees, etc.

  • Which school to attend? For each school you get an offer from, make sure to have a good estimate of how much you need to pay out of your own pocket: COA – aid amount.

  • How will you be paid?

  • Grants/loans: applied to tuition/on-campus living expenses first, you then receive the remainders directly.

  • Work-study: you receive the money directly.

  • Continue to meet the eligibility criteria.

  • Satisfactory academic progress as defined by school.

  • Remember to submit FAFSA in time every year

6. Other things to notice:

  • Prepare early.

  • Financial aid virtual assistant, etc.

  • The financial aid office at your school is a good resource of information.

  • Don’t forget to apply for other financial aids.

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